The politics of business
Roll Call continues tugging on a thread it uncovered late last week, asking further questions about Darrell Issa's blurry ethical distinction between public and private business. On Tuesday, Paul Singer noted
that Issa's DEI entity -- sometimes a reference to his initials, sometimes to his company Direct Electronics Inc -- had been bleeding over into government business in a few instances. For starters,
In mid-February, videos posted by the California Republican’s staff on the YouTube page of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee contained a production credit for “DEI Productions” instead of the “Oversight Productions” moniker his office had used on other committee videos.
Singer also found that dei.com, administered by Issa, was promoting both Issa's political career and his personal business. Once questions were raised, the site was promptly scrubbed
The header on the site reads “ISSA – US Congressman,” but it was originally the corporate address for the car alarm company Issa ran before he came to Congress, Directed Electronics Inc.
For watchdogs, the concern is whether Issa has clearly separated his campaign and corporate entities. In general, candidates cannot use their corporate resources to support their campaigns.
“When you go on a site and it says, ‘Here are my corporate accounts and here is my Congressional account,’ there should be a Chinese wall there,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center. Dei.com made it appear “that the corporate entities and the campaign entity are just subsidiaries of each other.”
Issa's office put a good deal of effort into downplaying the combination of business and politics as a bit of a relic from Issa's transition from business to politics in the late 1990s. But the vague line of distinction continues to this day for Issa
, including during a recent trip to a Las Vegas trade show.
Issa declared he was there as a board member on personal business, and therefore exempt from House ethics rules governing travel provided to Members by outside parties. But his press secretary, standing next to him, declared he was there on official Oversight Committee business, and the Committee paid his way.
Issa approved the travel of two personal office staffers to attend the glitzy gadget event and let the Consumer Electronics Association, the sponsor, pay the tab, all of which was properly reported to the Ethics Committee. Dozens of other Members and staff also accepted the association’s invitation to the event and traveled in their official Congressional capacity. Documents on file with the Ethics Committee indicate that Issa was invited in his official capacity, but he traveled instead as a private businessman.
Ethics guidelines on cases such as this are murky. It involves determinations of the primary purpose of mixed-use trips for all involved, which can often be different for different travelers. But if it's tricky for the experts in Congress whose specific job is to administer these regulations, imagine how unclear it must be for those who encounter Issa in these gray areas.
Issa has made it clear
from even before taking over the reins of his committee that his top priority was protecting and increasing corporate profits. And since then, he's solicited those same corporate and industry groups for advice on setting his committee's agenda. It's clear that his business *is* his politics. So when he travels to trade shows or other trade and business settings, how much distinction is there really between official government trips and technically personal business trips?
While elected officials are never truly "off" at public events, this rather clearly goes beyond simply being a public figure. Issa arrives at a trade show full of friends and contacts old and new, congressional staff in tow, having publicly opened up the Oversight Committee to be run by outside corporate interests. How much does the questionable distinction on his disclosure form matter at that point?
The lack of clarity actually makes the point exceedingly clear: business and politics are the same thing for Issa, with the latter too often serving the former.