Rep. Issa Enterprises Cuts Off Nose to Spite Ethics Charges

Posted on 15 September 2011

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By Lucas O’Connor

Note: “Issa Exposed” is a project of the Courage Campaign that tracks Darrell Issa's public record as well as the ongoing investigations and hearings he's involved with as the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee.

Darrell Issa was targeted Tuesday morning with an official ethics complaint, submitted by American Family Voices to the Office of Congressional Ethics. The complaint zeroes in on the laundry list of concerns that have been raised over Issa's personal benefit from his political actions. The letter specifically focuses on four incidences where Issa's personal investments comingled with his work as a legislator:

  • Goldman Sachs - While challenging an SEC investigation into Goldman Sachs, Issa was sinking hundreds of thousands into Goldman Sachs bonds. Deepening his ties, he brought a Goldman Sachs VP onto staff (only after a name change) to protect Wall Street from new regulations.
  • Merrill Lynch - Issa has done more than a billion dollars in business with Merrill Lynch, including more than $200 million just after its takeover of Bank of America. Issa also received more than $75 million in personal credit from Merrill Lynch. Coincidentally, Issa's very first subpoena as chair of the Oversight Committee was to investigate possible sweetheart credit deals extended to lawmakers by Countrywide.
  • DEI - On one occasion, an ethics ruling forced Issa to recuse himself from congressional business that conflicted with his private pursuit of profit through DEI. There have been a multiple occasions just this year in which Issa has failed to keep DEI distinct from his business as a member of Congress. Since Issa refuses to put his cast empire in a blind trust in keeping with standard congressional practice, it means that Issa is directly involved in attempting to turn a profit in the economic climate he helps shape in Congress.
  • Earmarks - In particular, Issa has requested earmarks that directly improve infrastructure around his personal real estate investments. As we noted this morning, Issa has invested something close to $80 million in real estate over the last five years, focused on low prices that have resulted from the economic downturn. In the meantime, Issa has steadfastly avoided investigating foreclosure practices -- instead profiting from the economic struggles of his constituents.

Of course, Issa has fallen back on the same, tired, empty excuse he uses every time: 'People who disagree with me don't count because they're people who disagree with me.' It ought to be insulting that Issa thinks we're so stupid. As Mike Lux points out, the crux of Issa's response is that an ideological opponent cannot raise ethics concerns; that they are implicitly biased and thus cannot have merit. Unfortunately for Issa, that logic would automatically undermine any investigation that Issa has conducted of the Obama Administration, so surely that can't be what Issa means. Further, it belies Issa's own motivations. If Issa believes that ethical charges must be an electoral, partisan conspiracy, what does that say about his own investigations? Heck, we already know by their own admission that Republicans in Congress would rather win next year's election than create jobs.

What he really means, as always, is that there are special rules for Congressman Darrell Issa that don't apply to anyone else. The White House must disclose it's meetings, but Issa has no responsibility to disclose the lobbyists he's meeting with or answer for the stunning conflicts of interest that pervade his staff. In a matter of days, Issa will convene a full committee hearing on financial issues with a large firm that supports Democrats, but how dare anyone question the personal profit that he's been making for years off of his work in Congress. Maybe it's the same perception of special rules that led Issa to involvement in car theft, illegal weapons, insurance fraud, a suspicious warehouse fire and leaving an injured motorist at the scene of an accident.

If Issa doesn't think his own conduct should be up for review, that's up to him -- but accountability applies to every public official. If he wants to argue that people with ideological differences are illegitimate investigators of each other, that's also up to him -- but it leaves him without an investigative leg to stand on. And we've got to assume that he could actually defend himself against the merits of the charges, he would have by now. He hasn't, and he's gotten really upset whenever he's been challenged. Hopefully the Office of Congressional Ethics (which House Republicans almost eliminated after re-taking the majority) will fight past his indignation.


Lucas O'Connor manages for the Courage Campaign. He is a member of the editorial board at Calitics and has worked with on a number of political campaigns.

Hi Lucas,
thank you for exposing Issa! please help us defeat Issa and replace him with Dick Eiden, independent, progressive who will not sell out to the corporate greed machine.
Take a look at our Issa Watch page at 'Eiden for Congress' on FB and - feel free to post your great material and get in touch with us.
looking forward to working with you!