Special Interests Are Big Backers of Deficit 'Super Committee' Members

Let the gridlock begin where it always does, with political donations.

The bipartisan "super committee" created under the debt ceiling deal that is supposed to come up with at least $1.2 trillion in deficit savings by the end of November got $64.6 million from special interests groups over the past decade, according to a new analysis by MapLight, a nonpartisan watchdog group that tracks the nexus of money and politics.

Political action committees funded by the legal profession ($31.5 million), Wall Street firms such as Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS), Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) ($11.2 million), and Democratic/Liberal groups ($9.6 million) topped the list here.

PACs and employees in the health-care industry gave heavily, too -- $9.3 million over the last decade.

Who on the super committee got the most cash? The Democrats, with twice as much as the Republican members -- $42.7 million in donations over the last decade, according to the analysis by MapLight.

Topping the list is Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) -- he received roughly $15.8 million in political donations from special interest PACs, largely due to his unsuccessful presidential bid in 2004, says MapLight. Following close behind is Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont) with $8.3 million. Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) received $5.9 million and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), got $5.7 million, says MapLight.

As for the other Democrat members, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) received $3.7 million, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) got $3.3 million.

The Republicans received $21.9 million in PAC money over the last decade, MapLights analysis shows. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) received $4.1 million; Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) $3.7 million; Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) $3.1 million; Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) got $2.8 million; and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) received $2.4 million.

Given these donations, will this mean special interests such as the legal profession and the health- care industry see their turf protected?

Sen. David Vitter, (R-La.) on Aug. 2, right after the super committee was created, introduced the Super Committee Sunshine Act, which would force the panel members to disclose political contributions of $1,000 or more within 48 hours of getting their donations.

Created under the recently passed debt-limit deal, the new congressional super committee is supposed to deliver at least $1.2 trillion in deficit savings by November.

Gridlock resulting in zero cuts would automatically trigger $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts or hikes in revenue, meaning possibly tax increases.

The committee will be co-chaired by Murray (D-Wash.) and Hensarling (R-Tex.).

Out of the groups that gave on an individual basis, the free-market group Club for Growth topped the list with more than $1 million in donations to the committee members.

PACs run by Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT) followed close behind with $810,100, and the University of California with $629,500 in total over the last decade.

Rounding out this top 10 ranking were PACs funded by employees at Goldman Sachs ($592,684), Citigroup ($561,081), JPMorgan Chase ($494,316), Bank of America ($349,566), Skadden Arps and other firms ($347,356) and General Electric (NYSE:GE) ($340,935).

PACs funded by labor unions gave, too. The Service Employees International Union donated $180,000 to committee members on both sides of the political aisle over the 10-year period. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees gave $165,000 over the last decade to only Democrats on the committee, as did the American Federation of Teachers, which gave $156,000, and the United Auto Workers, which gave $133,500.

The defense industry is squarely in the sights of the new super committee for cutbacks.

Defense contractors showered both sides of the political aisle on the committee, with PACs funded by Honeywell giving $164,120, Lockheed Martin $162,580, and Boeing $132,500 over the last decade.

Boeing, Raytheon and Northrup Grumman gave Rep. Murray more than $45,000 via PACs in the last election cycle, as these companies sit in the backyard of her home state of Washington.

Meanwhile, the six GOP members of the new Congressional "Super Committee" on debt reduction also got $791,474 from oil industry political action committees and executives during the 2010 election cycle, which is 11 times more than the $71,700 that the committee's Democrats received, says Public Citizen.

Federal election law restricts campaign contributions. Individuals can only give $2,500 to any candidate per election. PACs can give $5,000 per election. But according to the January 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission, corporations and unions can plow unlimited amounts of campaign donations into TV spots and the like that directly advocate for or against candidates.

With rising gas prices, oil companies have come under heavy criticism for their tax breaks. Top U.S. oil companies reported $73 billion in profits in the first half of this year.

But that criticism ignores the fact that U.S. energy companies have paid more than $2.2 trillion in taxes to state and federal governments over the last 25 years, according to a study by the Tax Foundation.

It also ignores the fact that much of the U.S. trade deficit is caused by the United States need to import oil from overseas, notably from Canada and Mexico. In the month of May alone, the U.S. ran a trade deficit of $50 billion; petroleum imports amounted to nearly $40 billion in that month.

And the criticism of the U.S. oil industry ignores the fact that 16 of the 19 biggest oil companies in the world are state-owned, with heavy government backing and lots of tax breaks given by their overseas governments. Oil companies get an estimated $4 billion annually in taxpayer subsidies, says Public Citizen, a tiny sum compared to the backing foreign state-owned oil companies receive.

Other progressive groups continue to attack big oil political donations. According to campaign finance data from the Center for Responsive Politics, Oil Change International, a progressive group that advocates clean energy policies, says the GOP members of the super committee received these sums:

-- The six Republicans received $1,433,584 in oil and gas industry campaign contributions over their careers. More than half of that money -- $791,474 -- was donated in just the 2010 election cycle.

-- The six Republicans on the committee got 11 times more money from oil companies in the 2010 election cycle than the six Democrats ($791,474 to $71,700)

-- Three members -- Portman, Pat Toomey and Upton -- received 83%, or $657,574, of these contributions.

-- Overall, the 12 members have received $2,147,533 from Big Oil during their careers.