By Josephine Hearn - 02/23/05 12:00 AM EST
The debate over Social Security privatization is set to get personal this week as an anti-privatization group plans to turn up the heat on Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.), the House Republicans’ point man on Social Security reform.
The group, the Campaign for America’s Future, says that McCrery, chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security, has a conflict of interest on privatization because he has received substantial campaign contributions from the financial-services industry, which could enjoy an influx of new business if Congress approves the creation of personal accounts.
The campaign plans to air ads in McCrery’s northwestern Louisiana district later this week arguing that McCrery has a “proven record of siding with” Wall Street investment firms, spokesman Toby Chaudhuri said.
“Contributions to Representative McCrery from the financial-services industry, which stands to benefit substantially from privatization, are enough to call his impartiality on the issue into question,” Chaudhuri said. The cost of the ads runs into the tens of thousands of dollars, he said.
In a telephone interview from McLean, Va., McCrery said, “It is a stupid, pitiful way to make one’s case by impugning the integrity of a policymaker. I get contributions from a wide range of interests, and they are not tied to any voting record. The voting record came before the contributions.”
McCrery noted that he has received donations from the Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, which opposes the administration’s Social Security reforms, and from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), whose president Andrew Stern is listed as an advisor to the Campaign for America’s Future.
The ads are the latest salvo in a rapidly escalating debate over the future of Social Security. A Republican lobbying group, USA Next, recently launched an ad campaign seeking to paint seniors group AARP, which opposes privatization, as liberal, bureaucratic and out of touch with America. The group hired some of the same consultants used by Swift Vets and POWs for Truth, which was behind a successful series of ads attacking John Kerry’s military service in Vietnam.
A spokeswoman for McCrery could not immediately comment on the development.
McCrery received $39,000 from the securities and investment industry in 2003 and 2004, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. He received $48,000 from commercial banking interests during the same time period.
The soft-spoken McCrery took over the Social Security Subcommittee this year, just as privatization made its way to the top of President Bush’s second-term agenda. The issue has thrust a national spotlight on the low-key lawmaker, who is known as a behind-the-scenes dealmaker and an emissary to prickly Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.).