Issa Back In Ethical Hot Water With Trade Show Snafu

March 04, 2011 11:20 am ET — Matt Gertz

Rep. Darrell Issa's (R-CA) very bad week shows no sign of ending. The House Oversight chairman has spent the last several days careening from one ethical impropriety to another.

Today, Roll Call reports that Issa has attended trade shows in his role as a board member of DEI Holdings Inc., the car alarm company he founded, rather than as a member of Congress — thus skirting House ethics rules regarding member travel. But he has been accompanied on those trips by congressional staff acting in their official roles. As Roll Call reports, this "highlights the thin line between Issa's corporate and Congressional activities." From the article:

Issa has returned every year to the electronics show, and for several years he traveled as other Members and staff did: by accepting the trip from the trade association as part of his official duties and reporting the trip to the Ethics Committee as a gift.

But after Congress tightened the rules on Congressional travel, Issa began going to the trade show on personal business, as a director of DEI. He told the Hill newspaper in a 2010 video interview that new House ethics rules made it harder for Members of Congress to attend the event. "I'm here on my own dime," Issa said. "If you are here as a 'guest of the show,' you can only be on the ground for less than 24 hours."

But Issa wasn't really there on his own dime. According to his 2010 financial disclosure form, his travel to the 2009 show, food and lodging were paid for by Directed Holdings Inc. The form indicates that Issa "Attended Board Meeting."

In 2010 and 2011, two of Issa's staff members filed "gift/travel" forms with the Ethics Committee saying their travel was paid for by the association, along with a flock of other House staff and Members. But Issa did not file travel forms, and spokesman Frederick Hill said it was because he traveled as a board member of DEI on personal business.

For this year's show, Issa was accompanied for part of the trip by his then-spokesman Kurt Bardella, whose $447 travel tab was paid for by the Oversight Committee, according to committee records. The committee report indicates that Bardella was at the show "for official committee business."

Earlier this week, Issa spokesman Bardella was fired after Politico reported that Bardella had been secretly sharing other journalists' emails with a New York Times reporter working on a book. The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza subsequently reported that "inside Issa's office there was no secret about Bardella's cooperation" with the Times reporter, raising even more questions about Oversight Committee's handling of reporter emails. And on Monday, The Watchdog Institute reported that Issa's committee is stocked with "staff members with close connections to industries that could benefit from his investigations."

Who could have predicted that a congressman whose past includes arrests for weapons charges and auto theft, suspicions of arson, and accusations of intimidation with a gun would have difficulty with ethics?