Last week, ThinkProgress broke a story revealing that Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) placed nearly $1 million in earmarks potentially benefiting real estate property that he owns. In early 2008, Issa publicly listed a multi-million earmark improvement on West Vista Way in Vista, California. Later that year, Issa purchased a $16.6 million medical office building on the same road where he had requested an earmark. He made the purchase with the knowledge that the earmark was pending, then finalized the deal before slipping the earmark into an Omnibus spending bill.
On Saturday, Jeff McDonald at the San Diego Union-Tribune published an article about the controversy. Reached for comment, Issa’s spokesman Frederick Hill called ThinkProgres “part of a left-wing attack machine.” However, in his next statement to McDonald, Issa’s spokesman appeared to concede that the earmark represented a conflict of interest:
“Representative Issa started making requests for West Vista Way in 2006,” Hill said. “After he bought the building, he didn’t make any more requests. The allegation by Think Progress is patently false.”
By claiming that the Issa consciously “didn’t make any more [earmark] requests” to improve the West Vista Road after the building purchase, Issa’s spokesman is tacitly acknowledging that the earmark would financially benefit Issa’s real estate, and that such earmark is unethical.
In fact, Issa did continue earmarking to improve the road leading to his office building after the purchase was made. According to the timeline we posted last week, Issa listed the earmark before the purchase, then fought to have two separate earmarks for the road approved months later. Unlike any other investors interested in buying the building, only Issa knew that he would follow through and secure the earmark later on. As a member of Congress, he was privileged with the knowledge that the earmark benefiting the property was not only pending, but that he would finalize the earmark after he bought the property. View a picture below of the map showing the location of the earmark and the property owned by Issa:
Issa has argued that an “earmark is tantamount to a bribe.” He has also declared that the public deserves to know that the earmark “requests we make benefit our communities, our country, and don’t line our pockets.” Since the West Vista Way earmark hasn’t begun yet (because of local budget problems), will Issa now withdraw the earmark request — especially given his spokesman’s comments acknowledging the ethical problems surrounding the project.