Allies in Action

Rep. Issa's Public Sector Job and Private Sector Interests Overlap

Congress may be on summer vacation, but Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight & Government reform committee, is still quite busy with his other job. In addition to heading one of the most powerful committees in Congress (which one might consider a full-time gig), Rep. Issa “moonlights” as an entrepreneur and investor. He is quite successful: Issa’s recently-disclosed net worth is closing in on $1 billion. Most employers don’t care what their workers do in their personal time, as long as it doesn’t interfere with their job responsibilities. However, in Issa’s case, there seems to be a fair amount of overlap – and this raises more than a few ethical questions.

Rep. Issa is well known for his willingness to bend over backwards to support corporate supporters. From writing letters to big corporations asking which pesky regulations they would most like to do away with to slamming the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for protecting ordinary people, Issa always looks out for the money-making interests of his most high-powered constituents. However, it appears that Issa is also using his government perch to stack the deck in favor of his personal private sector interests, such as securing federal earmarks for highway projects that have significantly increased the value of properties he owns. Here’s an excerpt are some details from a new report published over the weekend by the New York Times:

Even as he has built a reputation as a forceful Congressional advocate for business, Mr. Issa has bought up office buildings, split a holding company into separate multimillion-dollar businesses, started an insurance company, traded hundreds of millions of dollars in securities, invested in overseas funds, retained an interest in his auto-alarm company and built up a family foundation.

As his private wealth and public power have grown, so too has the overlap between his private and business lives, with at least some of the congressman’s government actions helping to make a rich man even richer and raising the potential for conflicts.

He has secured millions of dollars in Congressional earmarks for road work and public works projects that promise improved traffic and other benefits to the many commercial properties he owns here north of San Diego. In one case, more than $800,000 in earmarks he arranged will help widen a busy thoroughfare in front of a medical plaza he bought for $10.3 million.

His constituents cheer the prospect of easing traffic. At the same time, the value of the medical complex and other properties has soared, at least in part because of the government-sponsored road work.

But beyond specific actions that appear to have clearly benefited his businesses, Mr. Issa’s interests are so varied that some of the biggest issues making their way through Congress affect him in some way.

After the forced sale of Merrill Lynch in 2008, for instance, he publicly attacked the Treasury Department’s handling of the deal without mentioning that Merrill had handled hundreds of millions of dollars in investments for him and lent him many millions more.

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Cummings takes on Issa (again): Exposes bias and partisanship in stewardship of Oversight Committee

House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings has, yet again, exposed Representative Darrell Issa’s apparent use of his Committee chairmanship to advance a partisan agenda.

Cummings earlier today released a forty-page investigative report, which presents compelling evidence of efforts by Republican members of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission to support House Republican efforts to modify or repeal the Dodd-Frank Act (quite the departure from the bipartisan panel’s charge to investigate the causes of the financial crisis, not undermine legislative solutions to avoid future crises.) The report also raised serious ethical questions about the actions of GOP Commissioners and their staff, including evidence that they had leaked confidential Committee information to outside parties on multiple occasions.

This is a pretty amazing turnaround for an investigation launched by Chairman Issa to pursue baseless claims that Democratic FCIC commissioners and their staff had “conflicts of interest” and extensive ties to “partisan Democratic politics”. Yet rather than following up on the Cummings’ extensive report by agreeing to a request for bipartisan interviews with Commissioners Bill Thomas and Peter Wallison, the Chairman instead abruptly indefinitely postponed today’s hearings.

Unfortunately, this is not a surprising turn of events given Issa’s partisan stewardship of the Oversight Committee. Thank goodness for Rep. Cummings’ dogged pursuit of the truth and his sense of duty to the American people.

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Representative Darrell Issa Chooses Big Business Over the Lives of his Own Constituents

How many accidents will it take to get Rep. Darrell Issa to choose his constituents over his donors? The San Onofre Nuclear Station, located in Issa’s California congressional district, spilled 70 gallons of sulfuric acid on Saturday, its fifth spill in just over two years. These dangerous spills, combined with claims of a “deficient safety culture” at the plant, recently prompted hundreds of locals express their concern about the plant’s safety record. This, along with the recent nuclear disaster in Japan, would seem to be reason enough to prompt Issa to look into nuclear safety. Yet, he hasn’t given it more than a cursory glance.

Why would Issa ignore nuclear safety when the lives of his own constituents are most immediately at risk? Well, let’s follow the money. Edison International, which owns over 75% of the plant, is Issa’s third largest campaign contributor, donating $46,000 over Issa’s career, not including the $10,000 given to Issa’s two PACs. Is protecting the lives of his constituents just not worth asking questions of one of his biggest donors?

Find out more at Issa Watch, a project of the Courage Campaign

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