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White House: Request for "super committee" to stop fundraising is "silly"

SEATTLE - NOVEMBER 2: Democratic senatorial incumbent U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) waves to the crowd during an election night rally on November 2, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. Murray is facing a tight race for re-election against Republican candidate Dino Rossi for a seat in the U.S. Senate. (Photo by Chris Joseph Taylor/Getty Images)
Chris Joseph Taylor/Getty Images
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) shown here at an election night rally on November 2, 2010, does not need to step down as chair of the DSCC to serve on the deficit "super committee," the White House says.
Chris Joseph Taylor/Getty Images

A liberal watchdog group is calling on Sen. Patty Murray to stop fundraising for the Democratic party and step down from her party leadership position while she serves on the congressional "super committee," which is charged with finding trillions in budget savings this year. The White House today, however, dismissed the notion of a conflict of interest between Murray's two roles as "silly criticism."

Yesterday, CBS News confirmed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is appointing Murray, chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, to serve as co-chair of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. Formed as part of the deal to raise the debt ceiling, the bipartisan, 12-member "super committee" will be responsible for finding at least $1.2 trillion in budget savings by Thanksgiving.

The nonprofit group Public Campaign called on Murray to immediately step down as chair of the DSCC if she accepts the spot on the super committee.

"Sen. Patty Murray may be a fine senator, but putting Senate Democrats' leading fundraiser in charge of a committee that will see a lobbying push like never before sends the wrong message to the American people," Nick Nyhart, president of Public Campaign, said in a statement. "Instead of focusing solely on finding a balanced approach to deficit reduction, she will also be focused on raising money from the same interests hoping to influence the committee."

Last week, following reports that industries are expected to lobby members of the "super committee" intensely, Public Campaign and two dozen other liberal groups sent an open letter to Congress asking all super committee members to stop their political fundraising. The letter also asked Congress to provide full transparency on all super committee meetings with outside groups. special report: America's debt battle

"Americans have lost faith and trust in Washington because they believe corporate CEOs and lobbyists call the shots," the letter said. "That's why we urge every member appointed to this committee to take a clear two-part pledge to help restore trust and confidence in Washington."

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that President Obama doesn't believe Murray or other members of the super committee need to stop fundraising. Carney said the White House expects the members of the committee to take seriously their responsibility to serve their constituents and the country.

"I think that it's just silly criticism," Carney said of the argument that serving on the committee while fundraising might be a conflict of interest.

Carney pointed out that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell once said his primary goal was to keep Mr. Obama from getting re-elected in 2012. Yet even with such statements on the record, he said the White House is confident "we can put aside a lot of the partisan rhetoric and focus on what needs to get done."

Along with Murray, Reid appointed Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and John Kerry to sit on the committee. House Speaker John Boehner appointed Rep. Jeb Hensarling to serve as the other committee co-chair, and he also appointed Reps. Dave Camp and Fred Upton. McConnell has appointed Sens. Jon Kyl, Pat Toomey, and Rob Portman. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has yet to name the members she is appointing.