Why is this man smiling? Well, according to a new, explosive and in-depth report in The New York Times by Eric Lichtblau, antigay California Rep. Darrell Issa, the chair of the House Oversight Committee who has no problem helping business dealing with supposedly burdensome regulations - has apparently profited from his position in Congress. The Times reports that Issa now "has assets totaling as much as $725 million" and:
According to his filings, Mr. Issa's minimum wealth doubled in the last year, and he appears flush with cash: he bought dozens of mutual funds in 2010 worth as much as $80 million, managed by Wall Street powerhouses, without selling off any securities.
The hard-hit San Diego area has also benefited from federal money Mr. Issa brought through earmarks, which allow lawmakers to award money for their own pet projects. Indeed, more than two dozen of Mr. Issa's properties are within five miles of projects he has personally earmarked for road work, sanitation and other improvements, an analysis by The Times shows.
Issa is one of the millionaire/billionaires whom the Tea Party Republicans - who HATE earmarks - want to protect from having to pay higher taxes, even if it would help the country out of the fiscal crisis. Additionally - while there is no evidence so far that rich Meg Whitman might fund an initiative to overturn SB 48 - the California FAIR Education Act, I wonder if Issa might toss a few million in coins their way as a way of spurring his re-election bid in the newly re-drawn 49th Congressional District (the coastal communities of south Orange County, North County San Diego - including Camp Pendleton). Check out the Courage Campaign's Issa Watch.
Issa had a bad experience bankrolling an uncontrollable campaign - contributing around $2 million to launch the 2003 recall effort against California Gov. Gray Davis - thinking he would be the instant frontrunner. But he finished last in early polls and was overshadowed by eventual winner Arnold Schwarzenegger. Contributing to the StopSB 48 campaign could boost the Arab-American's image with the suspicious Religious Right. But helping put the referendum on the ballot could also result in a backlash to his businesses - much as hotel owner Doug Manchester experienced after he contributed $125,000 to get Prop 8 on the ballot in 2008. Surely Issa is aware that Manchester was forced to sell his prominent hotel in San Diego.
Here's an excerpt from Lichtblau's Must-Read piece in The Times:
Most wealthy members of Congress push their financial activities to the side, with many even placing them in blind trusts to avoid appearances of conflicts of interest. But Mr. Issa (pronounced EYE-suh), one of Washington's richest lawmakers, may be alone in the hands-on role he has played in overseeing a remarkable array of outside business interests since his election in 2000.
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 multibillion-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.
(Cross-posted at LGBT POV)