Darrell Issa

John Boehner's House -- The Future of the Senate?

Look no further than John Boehner’s House of Representatives (really run by the Tea Party) for a crystal clear view of what we’ll get in the Senate if the GOP wins in November and takes full control of Congress.
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Questionable Ethics In Issa'a Zeal to Score Political Points

Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) has been targeting the Obama administration since his earliest days as chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and recently he’s been waging a political witch hunt against Attorney General Eric Holder surrounding the Fast and Furious gunrunning operation. In the course of the investigation, Rep. Issa requested documents which the AG was prohibited by law from releasing, and for that, Rep. Issa successfully campaigned to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.

Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed an ethics complaint with both the Office of Congressional Ethics and the Department of Justice, alleging that in his zeal to embarrass the Obama Administration, Rep. Issa may in fact have violated House ethics rules as well as federal wiretap laws.

According to CREW:

Rather than releasing the warrant application to the media directly, which would clearly have been prosecutable, Rep. Issa inserted the information into the Congressional Record. This way, he shielded his otherwise illegal conduct behind the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution. Evidence also suggests Rep. Issa or his staff may have directed reporters to the Congressional Record to ensure the information contained in the leaked warrant application was discovered and further publicized. Such actions, which could constitute “republication” of the material, might not be subject to the same constitutional protections.

CREW also argues that there is precedent for holding Rep. Issa accountable for his potential violation of the wiretap statute, and that a refusal to do so would bring even more discredit to the House leadership than Rep. Issa’s botched and politically-motivated Fast and Furious investigation already has.

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New Reporting Guts Central GOP Arguments Involving ‘Fast and Furious’ Operation

Yesterday the House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, prompting a walkout of 108 Democrats who wanted to make clear that the vote was a baseless political stunt aimed at tarnishing the Attorney General and the Obama Administration.

But a bombshell new report released on Wednesday, June 27th makes perfectly clear how hollow attacks on Holder’s handling of the “Fast and Furious” program really are. Investigative reporter Katherine Eban, writing for Fortune Magazine, recounts in exhaustive detail how the scandal unfurled into a political circus, in a tale of “rivalry, murder, and political bloodlust.”

Eban reports how a key player in the botched operation, former Marine David Voth, fell victim to a swirl of false accusations by disgruntled former-ATF agents with ulterior motives.

“Indeed, a six-month Fortune investigation reveals that the public case alleging that Voth and his colleagues walked guns is replete with distortions, errors, partial truths, and even some outright lies. Fortune reviewed more than 2,000 pages of confidential ATF documents and interviewed 39 people, including seven law-enforcement agents with direct knowledge of the case. Several, including Voth, are speaking out for the first time.”

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA 49), Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has been in pursuit of additional documents pertaining to Fast and Furious, in addition to floating dubious conspiracy theories regarding the operation. Eban notes how the increased scrutiny of the ATF has made it more difficult for the agency to execute one of its core missions: arrest and prosecute the people who traffic illegal guns.

“Issa's claim that the ATF is using the Fast and Furious scandal to limit gun rights seems, to put it charitably, far-fetched. Meanwhile, Issa and other lawmakers say they want ATF to stanch the deadly tide of guns, widely implicated in the killing of 47,000 Mexicans in the drug-war violence of the past five years. But the public bludgeoning of the ATF has had the opposite effect. From 2010, when Congress began investigating, to 2011, gun seizures by Group VII and the ATF's three other groups in Phoenix dropped by more than 90%.”

Eban’s reporting unearthed absolutely no evidence that the tactic of “gun walking”, which Rep. Issa and his allies continue to put front and center, was ever actually in play. “The ATF's accusers seem untroubled by evidence that the policy they have pilloried didn't actually exist”.

Predicated upon erroneous and misleading information, the Fast and Furious ‘scandal’ is heavy on political intrigue, yet light on substance.

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Contempt: Republican Witch-Hunt Makes History

On Thursday, President Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, became the first sitting cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress. The blatantly political move by the GOP-controlled House of Representatives was the culmination of a multiyear plan by right-wing activists and politicians to undermine the nation’s top law enforcement official. Let’s recall how we got here. 

Attorney General Holder has had a target on his back from day one. He has played a key role in, among other things, defending voting rights for all Americans and advancing equal rights for gays and lesbians – things that the right wing vehemently opposes. In the case of the Fast and Furious program, which Holder’s opponents used to find him in contempt, he was the person who shut it down:
The problem of gunwalking was a field-driven tactic that dated back to the George W. Bush Administration, and it was this Administration’s Attorney General who ended it. Attorney General Holder has said repeatedly that fighting criminal activity along the Southwest Border – including the illegal trafficking of guns to Mexico – is a top priority of the Department. Eric Holder has been an excellent Attorney General and just yesterday the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee acknowledged that he had no evidence – or even the suspicion – that the Attorney General knew of the misguided tactics used in this operation.

Incredibly, the very same politicians who condemned Holder were supportive when President Bush asserted executive privilege in an unprecedented and expansive way to conceal potentially illegal activity by government employees. On the other hand, Holder and the Obama administration have gone to great lengths to accommodate the often unreasonable demands of Republicans in Congress:

Over the past fourteen months, the Justice Department accommodated Congressional investigators, producing 7,600 pages of documents, and testifying at eleven Congressional hearings. In an act of good faith, this week the Administration made an additional offer which would have resulted in the Committee getting unprecedented access to documents dispelling any notion of an intent to mislead.

Holder and the Obama administration only asserted executive privilege when Republicans demanded documents that would put the agents fighting gun violence at risk. This is yet another irony.

As Right Wing Watch reported, Rep. Darrell Issa, chair of the House Oversight Committee and Holder’s chief inquisitor, has been pushing a conspiracy theory for months that Obama and Holder intentionally allowed gun-smuggling to Mexico in order to boost violence and use it as the justification for an assault weapons ban here. It’s such a completely unhinged and baseless argument that it’s hard to take seriously. But Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, the NRA and even elected officials like Issa have aggressively pushed this lie and whipped their base into fever pitch.

While Holder is taking it on the chin for protecting agents working to keep us safe, the right wing is saying that the Obama administration intentionally let people, including an American border patrol agent, get killed as part of some gun control conspiracy. In reality, Mexico is awash with American guns. And the right-wing created the extremely lax gun control system that makes it possible.

In the Republican House of Representatives, where up is often down and black is white, the people working to prevent gun violence are smeared as having blood on their hands. That’s why Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi rightly called the contempt vote a “heinous act” and “unprincipled.” Sadly, a full 17 House Democrats were successfully pressured by the NRA to part ways with Pelosi and condemn Holder.

It’s clear now, if it wasn’t already, that we’re up against people who will say just about anything to win. We should expect more nonsense heading into the election. But ultimately the best way to beat back their lies is going to the ballot box.

 

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Darrell Issa's Two Hats

Rep. Darrell Issa’s ties to big business run deep, and as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, Issa has functioned quite efficiently as an arm of a Wall Street lobbying shop. He has demanded that government regulators back off from applying new rules to Goldman Sachs, and he has fought tooth-and-nail to deny the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and its yet-unconfirmed director Rich Cordray, any significant means to protect the public from fraud and abuse by the financial industry.

It’s (unfortunately) expected that members of Congress will take pains to protect their favored constituencies, but Issa has taken the overlap of money and politics to a new extreme. Issa’s deep ties to Wall Street are not a figment of his distant past – to this day he is so deeply beholden to Wall Street’s interest that it is difficult at times to discern which hat he is wearing – his investment tycoon hat or his chairman-of-one-of-the-most-powerful-committees-in-Congress-responsible-for-holding-corporations-and-the-government-accountable hat.

For example:

  • While Issa fought to block the SEC investigation of Goldman Sachs, he quietly bought $600,000 worth of Goldman Sachs bonds.
  • While Issa was accusing the Treasury of a “cover-up” in their role in Bank of America’s purchase of Merrill Lynch, he didn’t mention that he had completed transactions with Merrill Lynch totaling $1 billion over the last decade.
  • Many of Issa’s staffers epitomize the K-Street ‘revolving door.’

But the most troubling symptom of Issa's rapid swapping of hats is that the American people suffer when the Oversight committee fails to do its job  outcomes of investigations are pre-determined. When the committee -- at Issa’s direction -- investigated the FCIC for finding the “wrong” causes of the financial crisis, Issa simply cancelled the hearing when the investigation turned up examples of wrongdoing by Republicans. In other words, anything that, in the words of Issa's spokesman, “doesn’t fit the narrative,” was thrown out and what could have been an important investigation was postponed indefinitely.

As more and more examples of Issa’s eagerness to put corporations before people and Wall Street before Main Street rise to the surface, the American people will surely demand that those charged with making sure everyone plays by rules do so themselves.

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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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Issa's Committee Meets Perpetual Resistance

House Oversight & Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa is known for his particularly partisan investigations, despite his many promises to the contrary. Not surprisingly, the Obama administration is frequently in the crosshairs of Issa’s inquiries, that is, when he’s not trying to figure out how to increase profits for mega corporations.

It seems, however, that whenever Issa tries to make his case, Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) is right there pushing back, producing reports - based in actual fact – and giving the American people the full, unvarnished story.

Earlier this year, Issa tried to blame Obama Administration regulation for high gas prices, but Cummings released a convincing report showing that speculation is a more likely cause.

Yesterday, in advance of Issa’s hearing on the ATF’s “Fast and Furious” gun-trafficking program – a hearing which Issa has kept narrowly focused on Administration actions – Cummings again produced a report suggesting that we would not be in this situation if not for lax federal statues that handicapped our agents’ ability to prosecute gun traffickers.

Issa will undoubtedly try to continue using the Committee to promote his agenda of slamming the Obama Administration and currying favors for his corporate friends. Fortunately, for the American people, Rep. Cummings will be there to continue setting the record straight.

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Issa Helps Himself by Helping Goldman Sachs

You may recall that last year the Securities and Exchange Commision (SEC) filed a civil suit against Goldman Sachs, and that Rep. Darrell Issa tried to thwart the government[] investigation by sending a letter to Mary Schapiro, chairwoman of SEC. Issa said he was concerned that the lawsuit was timed “to coincide with the Senate’s consideration of financial regulatory legislation.” You may also recall that Issa’s motivations have been called into question in the past, and he’s often been accused of using his political power for his own monetary gain. Well, it appears that there might be more to that than we knew before. Recently, some of Issa’s personal finance disclosures have come to light. ThinkProgress reported:

According to documents filed recently with the House Clerk, Issa went on a buying spree of high yield Goldman Sachs bonds at the same time he was running defense for the investment bank in Congress. From February to December of 2010, Issa bought 12 Goldman Sachs High Yield Fund Class A bonds, each worth up to $50,000 (view page 10 the disclosure here). Many of the bonds were purchased in the months after he filed his letter to the SEC. The $600,000 in new Goldman Sachs investments added to Issa’s already multimillion dollar stake in the company, valued from $5.1 to $15.5 million.

Issa had claimed that his stance was representative of ordinary Americans, but clearly his actions indicate that he may put his own interests first.

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Rep. Cummings Continues to Fight Foreclosure Crisis

Rep. Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, sent a letter on Tuesday to the panel’s chairman, Darrell Issa, pressing the leader to subpoena six mortgage servicing companies. This is Cummings’s fourth letter to Issa urging the committee to take action on the foreclosure crisis. In it he notes particular alarm over increasing reports of U.S. service members and their families being illegally evicted from their homes and charged millions of dollars in unwarranted fees.

In February, Cummings and other Democratic committee members sent letters to ten mortgage companies, but only four responded with the requested documents. One company, MetLife, refused to voluntarily release any documentation and said it would only do so if ordered by a subpoena.

Particularly in light of the Committee’s unanimous vote in February of this year to investigate “wrongful foreclosures and other abuses by mortgage servicing companies,” it would be behoove Chairman Issa to grant Cummings’s more than reasonable request.

In these difficult economic times, millions of Americans are paying more than they can afford at the gas pumps, worrying about job security, and losing their homes because of fraudulent and mismanaged foreclosures. It is imperative that Congress fight to hold big banks and mortgage companies accountable for their role in pushing the country into economic crisis.

Chairman Issa must do his part by supporting his Democratic colleagues in their fervent commitment to investigating and responding to mishandled and deceitful mortgage practices. Protecting American families from abuse and other corporate wrongdoings that put their finances in jeopardy is not an issue to be dealt with by playing partisan politics. Congress has a responsibility to stand up for the American people and do everything in its power to get to the bottom of and put an end to the foreclosure crisis.

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Issa: "You Can Have Opinions" But They Aren't Valid

Recently, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has been working very hard to silence those who don’t agree with him, from choosing the minority’s witnesses for them to now discouraging them from responding to questions that Issa doesn't want answered. At today’s House Oversight Committee hearing on Project Gunrunner, when Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) asked an ATF agent if their prosecutions were made difficult by weak gun laws, Rep. Issa interrupted to remind the agent that “your testimony here is limited, and that it's not about proposed legislation and the like, and under House rules would not fall within the scope of this. So, anecdotally you can have opinions but ultimately it would not be considered valid testimony.” Will Issa stop at nothing to stack these hearings in his favor?

 

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Issa to Dems: We'll Pick Your Witnesses For You

Last week, Rep. Patrick McHenry, chairman of a House Oversight and Government Affairs subcommittee, reached a new low of legislative immaturity when he accused Obama advisor Elizabeth Warren of lying about the schedule she had set with his staff. Now, it seems, committee chair Darrell Issa is trying to top him.

Issa has demanded that, in a departure from the way House committees traditionally select witnesses for hearings – where the majority and minority party each pick a certain number – Issa would now be picking some of the witnesses allotted to his committee’s Democratic minority. Whenever the committee’s Republicans call a witness from the Obama Administration, Issa declared, that witness would be docked from the total number allowed to the committee’s Democrats….even if Democrats never wanted that witness in the first place.

Given that our democratic government is built on the idea that minority viewpoints still can get a voice, this change of rules was not happily met with by some of the more reasonable members of the committee.

Democratic Rep. Gerald Connolly gave a heated response, saying he would advise the administration not to send any witnesses to the committee until the rules were reversed: “But the minority has rights, and if the majority wishes to actually join on this issue and dare to tell us who our witnesses will be, and to designate administration witnesses as our witnesses against our wishes, then we're going to advise that administration to not cooperate with the members of the majority until our rights are recognized and respected.” Rep. Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the committee agreed.

This prompted Issa’s staff to send a note to reporters with Connolly’s remarks asking, “If Committee Democrats are encouraging the Administration to decline all witnesses, how does obstruction advance legitimate government oversight?”

Better questions to ask might be: “If a committee’s chair is busy making politically-motivated rules changes, how much time is he actually spending on legitimate government oversight?” or “Do we really want to be giving government oversight power to a man who doesn’t believe in the basic democratic principle of the rights of political minorities?”

 

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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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Democrats Urge House Oversight Committee to Investigate Speculators

Tomorrow, the House Oversight & Government Reform committee will hold a hearing about the role of speculation in gas prices. Ranking member Elijah E. Cummings has released a report examining the root causes of inflated fuel costs, which concludes that the debate so far has been focused on the wrong things.

Instead of listening to energy executives (who represent the most profitable industry in the world, to the tune of $31 billion for the top five oil companies in the first quarter of FY 2011 alone) rail against the prospect of losing their taxpayer subsidies or complain about post-BP spill safety measures, Rep. Cummings argues that the Oversight & Government Reform committee would better serve Americans by turning its attention to speculators:

 

With gas prices skyrocketing to more than $4 per gallon, it is time to stop focusing on advancing the priorities and profits of oil companies and instead find ways to give American consumers relief at the pump. I call on Chairman Issa to stand with consumers and conduct a responsible, bipartisan investigation into the impact of excessive speculation on high gas prices.

 

Some of the report’s key findings include:

  • Excessive oil speculation could be inflating gas prices by as much as 30%; the single most significant opportunity to reduce gas prices is to counter excessive speculation.
  • Expanded domestic drilling or eliminating post-BP oil spill safety measures would have negligible impact on gas prices.
  • Drilling is not the problem – post BP,  the Administration has approved 14 deepwater drilling permits, 55 shallow water permits, and two new exploration plans.
  • In the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the oil business is the most profitable industry in the world. The top 5 oil companies reported profits of $31 billion in the first quarter of FY 2011, a 32.6% increase over the first quarter of 2010.
  • Eliminating tax subsidies could save more than $43 billion over the next 10 years, and foregoing the collection of market-rate royalties from companies that drill in the Gulf costs taxpayers up to $53 billion.

OGR committee chairman Darrell Issa now has an excellent opportunity to hold a hearing that could help the American people instead of his corporate friends – let’s see if he comes through.

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Issa Ignores Reality at His Anti-Transparency Hearing

Yesterday afternoon, Rep. Darrell Issa, the founder of the Transparency Caucus, dedicated a committee hearing to smearing transparency as the enemy of democracy. President Obama is reportedly drafting an executive order that would require businesses seeking government contracts to disclose their political spending. Since Issa's patrons in Big Business would rather cloak their machinations in secrecy, Issa called a hearing to try to reframe a provision that would protect democracy as a threat to democracy. Shortly before the hearing, People For the American Way President Michael Keegan wrote a Huffington Post piece about this.

Listening to Issa and his fellow Republicans, you'd never know that last year's Citizens United decision undermined a century's work of reforming our campaign finance system. You'd never know that from the congressional midterm election immediately before Citizens United and the one immediately after, spending from groups that don't disclose their donors skyrocketed from one percent of total spending by outside groups to an incredible 47 percent. You'd never know that corporate giants were anonymously flooding the airwaves with campaign ads and drowning out the voices of everyone else.

At the hearing, Issa and his fellow Republicans repeatedly framed the executive order as injecting political considerations into federal contracting decisions. They ignored the fact that both current federal law and the proposed executive order prevent that from happening. They ignored the testimony of an OMB official who described the effective appeals process bidders have whenever they suspect they were turned down for a contract for political reasons. They ignored the fact that, as Ranking Member Elijah Cummings pointed out, if the proposed disclosure requirements inject political considerations into procurement decisions, then so do existing disclosure requirements.

Issa and his allies kept repeating that the only reason to require disclosure would be to incorporate politics into contracting decisions. The OMB official pointed out other examples where contractors submit information that cannot be used by procurement officials but which the American public has a vital interest in – such as lobbying disclosures.

Disclosure of political spending is simply not a threat to political speech, as much as Issa and his wealthy patrons want to claim otherwise. In fact, eight of the nine Justices in Citizens United voted to uphold disclosure requirements and agreed that the federal government has an important interest in providing Americans information about the sources of election-related spending. It's not easy to get eight Justices to agree on much of anything these days, so that says a lot about just how far beyond the mainstream Issa and his corporate backers have gone.

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Small Businesses Rally Support for Campaign Finance Transparency

The Obama administration is planning to issue an executive order that would require government contractors to disclose their political contributions. This will at least shed light on whether taxpayer dollars are used to influence elections now that, because of the Citizens United decision, corporations -- including government contractors -- are permitted to spend unlimited money from their general treasuries on elections.

Of course, massive corporations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would prefer that these political donations remain a secret in order to preserve their enormous advantage in our current pay-to-play system.

It’s no surprise that their staunch ally Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform committee, is holding yet another politically-motivated hearing, with a stacked witness list, to find out if “President Obama’s proposal would curb free speech and hurt small businesses.”

A coalition of representatives from the American Independent Business Alliance, the American Small Business Council, the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce and small business owners find this suggestion laughable. In a press telebriefing held this morning, the panel described how it is in fact the exact opposite—the current scenario in which large corporations make political contributions without disclosure requirements – that is detrimental to small business.

Panelists expressed their dismay at how government contracts are awarded to large corporations, when small businesses can provide a better product at significantly lower cost. They wonder what they have to do to get the same sweetheart deals that the large companies with deep pockets and lobbying shops are getting. The problem is that we’ll never know unless these corporations are forced to disclose their political contributions. The fact that they won’t shows that they have something to hide—and Americans would surely demand better stewardship of their tax dollars if they knew that their money was ultimately being used for political purposes instead of on services to benefit the public interest. As Marybeth Gardam, owner of EarthStuff LLC summarized, “Transparency is a small business value.”

It is also an American value, and one that we should demand throughout our political system.

People For president Michael Keegan has more on the disclosure proposal in the Huffington Post.

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Issa Suddenly Concerned About Capturing Presidential Records (Created After 1/20/2009 Only)

Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, waving an iPad in front of senior White House technology officials earlier today, demanded to know whether administration staffers were flouting the Presidential Records Act by conducting work-related business on their personal email systems instead of on the official server. Issa said his purpose was to address so-called “transparency setbacks” in the administration’s record keeping. Presumably, as Issa noted in the hearing, White House staffers could be communicating with the DNC on their personal property, free from public scrutiny.

But in 2008, that very same scenario seemed preposterous to Issa, who raised this point in a similar hearing about possible improper email use in the Bush Administration:

 

"Are we simply going on a fishing expedition at $40,000 to $50,000 a month?" Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) asked National Archives and White House officials at the hearing. "Do any of you know of a single document, because this committee doesn't, that should've been in the archives but in fact was done at the RNC?"

 

As it turns out, that is quite possibly what happened. Of the 22 million Bush Administration email messages that went missing due to a faulty archiving system, it was widely suspected that Karl Rove and other senior advisors used RNC email systems to conduct official White House business.

Interestingly, Issa defended the loss of the Bush Administration emails because they were using old software. This is just another example of how Issa’s priorities change as quickly as administrations do.

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Issa Deregulates While the Troops Get Evicted

“Support our troops!” rings the familiar battle cry of many Republicans in Congress. However, a new post by Courage Campaign calls attention to how, when talking about supporting the troops, they sometimes do not (literally) put their money where their mouths are.

Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, says he supports helping America’s soldiers obtain a good loan for housing:

In the 110th Congress, I supported H.R. 551, the “Home Ownership for America’s Veterans Act of 2007.” This bill will allow veterans entering the military after 1977 to participate in the Cal-Vet home loan program. The Cal-Vet program offers below market interest rate and little to no money down on home loans for qualified veterans purchasing a home in California. Currently, military before 1977 are afforded this opportunity. This benefit should be extended to our many members of the armed forces entering after this date.

 Unfortunately, the economic recession caused by Wall Street recklessness has hit military families disproportionately hard, and thousands of military families are losing their homes. If there was ever an appropriate target for an investigation, these bigwig bankers would be it.

The trouble is that the financial sector supplies plenty of campaign cash to Mr. Issa, so it is unlikely that we will see any meaningful oversight or reform in this arena any time soon, at least not while the Chairman prioritizes deregulation for the benefit of his corporate backers over all else.

Meanwhile, the troops are losing their homes.

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Issa Not a Fan of Disclosure if it Means His Actions Must Be Disclosed

The Obama Administration is floating a proposal that would bring a little more transparency to the political process by requiring government contractors to disclose their campaign contributions over $5,000. Rep. Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee is strongly opposed to the proposed rule, since improved disclosure can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, improved disclosure would make the committee’s job easier, since more information would be readily available to investigate unethical pay-to-play contracts. But on the other hand, disclosure would be a bit awkward if it’s your political contributors wasting billions of taxpayer dollars or if you may have personally benefit from the nearly $1 million in earmarks you secured.

Issa isn’t totally against the idea of disclosure and record keeping—as long as it only applies to other people, such as Democrats. Could it be that the chairman of the committee charged with protecting the American people’s resources from waste and abuse might really just be interested in deciding who gets to waste and abuse?

See Common Cause's call for the executive order here.

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Big Pharma, Little Regulation

Congress may be in recess this week, but that doesn’t mean policymakers are taking a break from cozying up to corporate campaign contributors. Today at a field hearing in California, the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform is inviting top pharmaceutical executives to testify about how government regulations intended to prevent drug companies from selling poison to the general public are hindering their ability to make money.

Committee Chairman Darrell Issa’s habit of providing Republican financiers with the opportunity to requests favors from his committee is nothing new, but a report from Public Campaign gives the details on how Big Pharma earned its day on the witness stand.

According to the report, the pharmaceutical industry is Issa’s #1 contributor, giving him nearly $300,000 throughout his time in Congress—including a haul of $72,000 in 2010 alone. 83 percent of the industry’s contributions to Issa's campaign committee have come from the PACs of 25 different companies, led by giants such as Allergen, Pfizer, Amgen and GlaxoSmithKline. Even the hearing’s witnesses have personally made substantial donations: Duane Roth, Chairman of Alliance Pharmeceutical Corporation, has donated $5,500 to Issa. Alexander Lukianov, CEO, Nuvasive, Inc., has donated nearly $10,000 to the Republican National Committee.

I’m holding my breath to see how many “federal policies affecting job growth in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries” will be slashed at the “suggestion” of the industry.

PFAW