- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 21, 2011

When congressional leaders earlier this month named six lawmakers from each party to a debt reduction “supercommittee,” investing unprecedented power in a tiny cadre to slash funding, they set off a wild scramble among special interest groups to gain access and protect their interests.

Yet many groups with the most at stake didn’t have to change their plans. Some members of the supercommittee received more campaign contributions in July from political action committees controlled by corporations, unions and other lawmakers than anyone else in Congress, disclosures filed this weekend show.

Rep. Dave Camp, Michigan Republican who chairs the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee and was named to the debt panel by House Speaker John A. Boehner, collected $134,000, largely from insurance and health-care-connected groups, more than anyone else in Congress, including party leaders.

Rep. Fred Upton, a fellow Michigan Republican who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, received $92,000, ranking fourth among all lawmakers, in a span of a few weeks last month. Reps. Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican, and Becerra Xavier, California Democrat, also ranked near the top in PAC contributions in July.

The bulk of the nearly half-million dollars given to supercommittee members came from PACs linke to the finance, insurance, real estate, and health industries — all of which stand to lose billions if committee members don’t protect their interests.

“They’ve already had longstanding relationships with these members and had them in their sights,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political influence. Now, the supercommittee members are “going to attract donations by virtue of living.”

Nearly all of the PAC contributions are in the thousands of dollars and come from groups aiming to further the mission of a trade group, corporation or labor union. The totals aren’t complete, because many groups report spending not on a monthly basis, but twice a year.

Doctors’ groups, whose business would be roiled by Medicare reform, gave tens of thousands of dollars to debt committee members; the PAC of the United Services Automobile Association, which sells insurance to military families, gave $27,000; the American Bankers Association gave $14,000; and two labor groups representing government employees even made donations to Republican supercommittee members.

Because of their positions as committee chairmen, Mr. Camp and Mr. Upton were likely picks for the debt committee before the appointments were announced.

But with the 12-person roster set in stone, as the group’s members prepare to cut billions from the federal budget, their new positions will be a boon for their own campaigns’ finances as interest groups with arms on the chopping block seek to curry favor with the lawmakers via all channels available.

Because they’ve enjoyed strong financial support from interest groups in the past, they can afford to “tone it down when it comes to fundraising” while still having the resources to run for re-election, said Mrs. Krumholz, which may have factored into party leaders’ decision to pick them.

But some have instead capitalized on the newfound demand for their attention.

Days before the supercommittee is scheduled to hold its first meeting, Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, will co-host a fundraiser at which those who pay thousands of dollars for tickets can mingle with her and other Senate Democrats.

On Oct. 4, the National Association of Realtors, which opposes proposals to recover funds by modifying the mortgage tax deduction, will host a reception for Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat. And those who pay between $1,000 and $5,000 will get face time with Mr. Becerra at a Washington Nationals game Sept. 7, invitations obtained by the Sunlight Foundation show.