As Roll Call reported earlier this month, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has a history of blending his personal business interests with his work as a member of Congress. Companies owned by the Issa family, including a firm called DEI (an acronym for Issa’s initials), set up websites to channel users to Issa’s official congressional campaign website. After Roll Call made an ethical inquiry to Issa, he changed the website.
ThinkProgress has discovered more troubling evidence that Issa may have blended his work as a lawmaker with his own business empire. After founding a successful car alarm company, Issa invested his fortune in a sprawling network of real estate companies with holdings throughout his district. One of Issa’s most valuable properties, a medical office building at 2067 West Vista Way in Vista, California, is called the Vista Medical Center, and was purchased in 2008 for $16.6 million. Described as “a long-term investment,” the property was bought by a company called Viper LLC, a business entity operated by Issa’s family that Issa has up to a $25 million dollar stake in.
Around the same time Issa made the Vista Medical Center purchase, the congressman began requesting millions of dollars worth of earmarks to widen and improve the highway adjacent to the building. In 2008, he requested $2 million to expand West Vista Way, the road in front of his “long-term investment,” but only received $245,000 from the government. The next year, Issa made another earmark request for improving the West Vista Way highway next to his building. He earmarked another $570,000, bringing his total to $815,000, to add parking lots, widen the road, add bus stops, improve the sewer system, and other utility work. A map showing the location of Issa’s property, and the road, is below:
Although the highway project has not begun yet (because of local budget problems), the federal money is allocated through Issa’s efforts. Already, a firm representing Issa’s real estate company is advertising the Vista Medical Building and its “Excellent Access with Freeway Visibility.” As ethics experts have explained, lawmakers should avoid earmarks in the immediate area of their own business interests.
Issa’s highway earmarks not only potentially benefit his multi-million dollar medical office building, they provide better access to his other properties in the area. About 2 miles down West Vista Way from the Vista Medical Center, Issa owns a commercial office building worth over $9 million, as well as an adjacent retail office building. The commercial office building leases to a number of different clients, and Issa’s retail building leases to a Hooter’s. All three properties are on the same highway, which Issa plans to retrofit with taxpayer money.