On Wednesday, we reported that some of the earmarks Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) had requested over the years appear have the potential to benefit Issa’s real estate empire. Yesterday, Issa responded to our article over Twitter:
Issa did not dispute the fact that his earmark could benefit his real estate property. Instead, he argued that the earmark was simply a request from a constituent. In his Tweet, Issa linked to a letter from a county government group requesting the earmarks at issue. It would be appropriate if the earmark had been requested coincidentally near property Issa already owned. Over the years, starting with fiscal year 2007, Issa had placed the West Vista Way earmark on his list of interested earmarks. However, the timeline of events shows that Issa actually purchased his $16.6 million office building with the knowledge that his own earmark next to it was finally pending:
— February 20, 2008: According to the letter provided by Issa’s office, the San Diego Association of Governments requested $2 million in taxpayer earmarks for widening and improving the West Vista Way road in Vista, California.
— March 4, 2008: Issa releases the list of over $200 million in earmark requests that includes the $2 million request for the improvements on West Vista Way.
— October 8, 2008: Issa negotiates the purchase of the Vista Medical Plaza for $16.6 million. The building is situated next to West Vista Way and along the area where the earmarked improvements are targeted.
— February 2009: A few months after closing the deal on his multi-million dollar Vista Medical Plaza office building, Issa pushes for his West Vista Way earmark in the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009. Unlike any of Issa’s other earmarks, Issa secured two separate earmarks for West Vista Way into the bill: one for $245,000 and another for $570,000.
— February 2009: Although Issa publicly listed over $200 million in earmarks for the FY2009 budget, he only secured a few. He did not obtain a million dollar Boys and Girl grant, nor did he secure one for a flood control grant in his district. Out of all of the earmarks he publicly listed, the West Vista Way one seemed to fair better than most.
— March 11, 2009: President Obama signs the Omnibus into law, granting a total of $815,000 to the West Vista Way project for Issa. Issa later begins advertising his Vista Medical Plaza and its “Excellent Access with Freeway Visibility.”
As we noted yesterday, Issa has said that an “earmark is tantamount to a bribe.” Issa’s fellow House Republicans in the San Diego area have a long history of earmark related scandals. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) got caught enriching himself off of land deals boosted by the earmarking process. Former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA) was embroiled in a similar controversy. Responding to the Cunningham scandal, Issa made a poignant observation:
“The Duke Cunningham earmark-bribery scandal brought new scrutiny to members of Congress and, specifically, to the appropriations process. Constituents want to know that the project requests we make benefit our communities, our country, and don’t line our pockets.”
Planning his role as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Issa called for hearings on the earmarking process. Given Issa’s remarks on the Cunningham scandal, he should be acutely aware of the ethical problems posed by buying property next to his own earmark projects.
Why did Issa purchase the land when he had a pending earmark request that could increase its value? Will he now withdraw his earmark since he might benefit financially from the project?