The Chairmen

Published — November 4, 2010 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Darrell Issa — Oversight and Government Reform Committee

Californian sure to increase scrutiny of Obama administration

Introduction

Officials from the Obama administration will likely be frequent visitors to this panel once Darrell Issa takes the gavel.

Issa is a fifth-term congressman from California’s 49th Congressional District, which includes northern portions of San Diego County and southwest Riverside County. Issa, 57, became a millionaire by building Directed Electronics, an automobile security company best known for its Viper alarm system. Indeed Issa’s own voice warned potential car thieves who got too close to his products, “Protected by Viper, stand back.”

Before his election to the U.S. House, Issa unsuccessfully sought the GOP Senate nomination to take on Sen. Barbara Boxer in 1998. As a sophomore congressman, he spent more than $1.7 million to bankroll the successful effort to recall Democratic California Gov. Gray Davis in 2003. And in January 2009, he succeeded retiring Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia as ranking member — the top member of the minority party — of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Issa, a frequent critic of the Obama administration, is generally assumed to be a shoo-in for the chairmanship of the committee if Republicans take control of the House. The Oversight and Government Reform Committee claims wide-ranging jurisdiction “to investigate any federal program and any matter with federal policy implications.” Issa has pledged to use that perch to ensure greater oversight of the Obama administration.

Among his legislative accomplishments: helping create a bipartisan commission to uncover the root causes of the financial crisis, and writing a law that banned political organizations and others from sending mail that appears to be from the U.S. Census.

Issa’s large contributors include political action committees for defense contractors, telecommunications, and technology companies. A previous chairman of the Consumer Electronics Association and a former captain in the U.S. Army, Issa has been a leading voice for patent reform and a vigorous supporter of defense spending.

At the Center for Public Integrity’s 20th anniversary dinner last month, Issa said he hopes his committee will conduct relentless “proactive reporting” to close the loop on reforms and make sure that the Obama administration “cleans up government systematically.”

Top PAC contributors

  • Raytheon Co., a major defense contractor — at least $35,000
  • Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), an engineering company and defense contractor — at least $31,500
  • AT&T Inc., the telecommunications giant — at least $30,000
  • Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, representing 415,000 air pilots — at least $26,000
  • Microsoft Corp., the computer software behemoth — at least $25,500
  • PACs gave at least $1.1 million to Issa’s campaign account and his Invest in a Strong and Secure America leadership PAC

Revolving door

  • Jason C. Scism, Issa’s legislative director (2009-2010) and counsel (2005-2008) is now a lobbyist for Research in Motion
  • Mark Joseph Anderson, Issa’s legislative director (2002-2003) is now a lobbyist at Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, representing Exxon Mobil, Feld Entertainment, and the American Fur Merchants Association

Earmarks

  • Between 2008 and 2010, successfully obtained $130.8 million in earmarks, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense
  • Obtained more than $110 million for a courthouse in San Diego
  • Obtained $2 million for Cercom Inc. to develop and make advanced materials for body armor
  • Did not get any earmarks in 2010
  • An Issa spokesman told the Center he “has been ahead of the Congressional curve in fixing a corrupted earmark process, from being one of the first Members to publicly post his appropriations requests in 2006 to deciding to forgo all earmarks in 2009. Taxpayers are sick of the out-of-control spending earmarks represent and until Washington kicks this spending addiction, neither the Congressman nor the American people will tolerate a return to business-as-usual, pork-barrel earmarking”

Campaign promises

  • A September report by the minority members of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee listed issues they felt merited scrutiny that the Democratic majority had opted not to investigate
  • Issa pledged that if chairman “I won’t use it to have corporate America live in fear that we’re going to subpoena everything. I will use it to get the very information that today the White House is either shredding or not producing”
  • Issa promised, if chairman, to reform and make more efficient the federal pension system, Medicare, the U.S. Postal Service, mortgage financers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and government information technology purchases
  • Issa’s spokesman said the lawmaker’s record shows how he would lead the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “In this Congress, he has led investigations into Bank of America’s shotgun marriage to Merrill Lynch, the shady AIG bailout, and serious consumer safety problems at both the FDA and Johnson & Johnson — to name just a few — while working with independent inspectors general (IGs) and watchdogs in the press to hold the federal bureaucracy accountable for historic levels of waste, fraud and abuse largely ignored by the Majority. Mr. Issa will continue working to empower front-line IGs throughout the federal government with the resources and subpoena power they need, not only to expose wasteful programs but to help Congress craft the common-sense reforms the American people deserve”
  • Issa has also pledged to investigate events that occurred under the watch of President George W. Bush. He specifically cites problems with the former Mineral Management Service, as well as both the Bush and Obama administrations’ response to the national mortgage crisis.

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