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.