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Issa’s Staff Tied To Organizations That Could Benefit From Investigations


San Diego Congressman Darrell Issa has built a staff with close ties to organizations that could benefit from the investigations conducted by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, according to the Watchdog Institute. We speak to Watchdog Institute Executive Director Lorie Hearn about the ties Issa's staff has to billionaires Charles and David Koch, who made their fortunes in the oil and chemical business and are funders of a numerous conservative causes.

San Diego Congressman Darrell Issa has built a staff with close ties to organizations that could benefit from the investigations conducted by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, according to the Watchdog Institute. We speak to Watchdog Institute Executive Director Lorie Hearn about the ties Issa's staff has to billionaires Charles and David Koch, who made their fortunes in the oil and chemical business and are funders of a numerous conservative causes.


Lorie Hearn, executive director of the Watchdog Institute

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A new watch dog report puts a spot lice on Darryl Issa's over sight committee. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, coming up on These Days, the report suggests that Republican staff members of the house oversight committee have rinks to some powerful business interests, they are the same business interests who want the committee to get rid of many federal regulations. We'll hear the details. Plus a talk about repressive regimes in the middle east with former Iranian [CHECK AUDIO] then we'll ask if Aztec fever continues despite Saturday's big loss. That's all ahead this hour on These Days, first the news.

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Who is on the staff of the house over sight committee as chairman Darryl Issa conducts investigations into government regulations? According to the watch dog Institute, many of Issa's staffers are connected to powerful Republican donors, lobbyists, and business interests. Well, you might say that's politics as usual. But some congressional observers say it's not quite kosher when the people being regulated are given the opportunity to become the deregulators. Joining me to discuss this new report is my guest, Lorie Hearn, [CHECK AUDIO] an investigative journal organization at San Diego state yesterday. Hoary, good morning.

HEARN: Good morning, Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, first of all, what is the over sight committee in Congress? What is it supposed to do.

HEARN: The over sight committee is one of the most powerful [CHECK AUDIO] what is working and what isn't working. It is one of the most powerful committees because the majority has subpoena power, which means they have huge access to all kinds of documents that one might not otherwise be able to which had in know investigation. The minority members do not have the same subpoena power.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And it's my understanding, they really have a wide range. I mean, when Toyota got into trouble, they subpoenaed [CHECK AUDIO] is a weeping one.

HEARN: Right, and the majority sets the agenda. The now chairman and the others on the majority side of the over sight committee decide what they're going to investigate.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So the nub of your story, it seems to me this some [CHECK AUDIO] more than a passing interest in the outcomes of the committee's investigations. Is that your judicial finding?

HEARN: Precisely, yes. Maybe I should back up a little bit and say why we decided to look at this. Obviously having Darryl Issa as the majority leader, chairman of the over sight and government reform committee, puts San Diego in this region in a big spotlight, having a member of our [CHECK AUDIO] with this power. He has obviously since he was even -- since he knew he was gonna become the majority leader after the election in November, has announced a very aggressive agenda of checks he wants to look at, including business regulations -- federal regulations over businesses. And he has been hiring lots of people, he has a star, a potential staff of 80, he hasn't hired them all yet. [CHECK AUDIO] from our Washington bureau. We have a reporter who's located there, to monitor the California delegation, we thought we should look at who the people are that he's been hiring, and what kinds of connections they might have or might not have to the things he's announced he's gonna investigate.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And investigating [CHECK AUDIO] environmental protection regulations, things that businesses have to, basically, spend money in order to meet qualifications that the government imposes.

HEARN: Exactly. Work mace regulations, many thing that have to do with the environment, the EPA has many regulations on businesses. And one of the things that distinguishes what Mr. Issa has done with this particular announcement that he wanted to look at federal regulations was that he sought input from more than a hundred and 50 businesses, trade organizations and others saying, tell me what think the most onerous regulations are so we can look at those.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Exactly. I'm speaking [[]] the house over sight committee and the connections of staff members on chairman Darryl Issa's over sight committee. So what was the finding of this report? What kinds of corporations or industries are represented on the [CHECK AUDIO].

HEARN: Well, first of all, we found, in doing background checks and looking at all the [CHECK AUDIO] the minority members.


HEARN: The Democrats. There are 23 Republicans on the committee, [CHECK AUDIO] they have separate staffs. We looked at the Democrats' staff as well, it was difficult to really look the that staff in context because the Democrats have not really announced their agenda. Often what happens is the minority members of the over sight committee tend to counter or react to what the majority Czech check is? . That they were going back looking at? Things having to do with the mortgage and loan scandals. And so that's the first time they actually said what they were going to do. [CHECK AUDIO] so looking at the majority in context, we looked at are if people who might have connections to particular industries, from whom Mr. Issa had already solicited input. The things that came up most interestingly were connections to the Coke brothers, the Coke industry, a billion dollar industry, and has contributed quite a lot over the years To conservative and libertarian causes, connected to the Americans for prosperity in the tea party. Some staff members have been former lobbyists for industries that maybe would like to see some of these regulations relaxed, so those were the kinds of connections that we were seeing.

THE COURT: And what was Congressman Issa's response to your [CHECK AUDIO] what do they have to say about any possible links or conflicts of interest on their staff?

HEARN: Well, we tried to get specific answers, and actually called -- put a call into every punish that we named in the story. And the only thing that representative Issa's office was able to respond or giving us as a response was a prepared statement that simply said that whenever they hire their staff members, they take into account their ability to do the job. They didn't want to talk about any possible connections.

CAVANAUGH: Now, lory, I said in the introduction that a lot of people might look at this report and say, well, it's business as usual as politics go, you know, having connected staff members on an oversight committee. We understand, it's no secret that generally speaking the Republican party is not keen on lots of government regulation. So in essence, where is the potential problem that we see in this report?

HEARN: Well, it's -- I think it's very clear that having staff members who have [CHECK AUDIO] or previous connections to certain things that are being investigated by a congressional committee, that is business as usual in Washington for sure. Of you probably would want [[]] on your staff, the thing [CHECK AUDIO] that I think is concerning to many is the fact that some of these staff members are connected to industries from whom Mr. Issa has actively solicited [CHECK AUDIO] staff originations to the committee, some of them are connected to industries that could benefit from, which one might say, maybe that would mean in some way they could benefit from changes in legislation or regulations from the federal government. Sort of taking it from one thing and moving it out to say this is how this matters, and this is how these people are connected, but certainly it's not unusual to have people who know when they're doing in various areas on a committee, but when you have this extra step where you have people who are actually connected and could benefit from, that raises the stakes.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, could you give us an example of 1 or 2 staff members, of course without naming names, and the connections that you found in this report.

HEARN: Well, a couple of the senior people on the staff, senior council, Republican council, one is the son of a very prominent lobbyist, who lobbies, in fact, for large corporations, there are others -- there are several others who were former lobbyists themselves. Another had connections to the auto alliance, if the alliance of auto manufacturers, which is another organization that provided input to the committee on regulations that they thought needed to be rescinded. And also the staff issued a preliminary report heard. [CHECK AUDIO] and there was a preliminary staff report that already made certain recommendations of how things should proceed, particularly having to do with, for example, EPA regulations, so it shows you how those things already start to unfold. There has already been action.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: (REPEAT LAST PHRASE) by particularly staff members in writing up this report.

HEARN: Exactly.

CAVANAUGH: Answer now, when Darryl Issa's committee is going to be [CHECK AUDIO] have they outlined what -- the areas that this committee is it gonna go into?

HEARN: Well, Mr. Issa has already issued some subpoenas, some having to do with the bank and mortgage issues. He has made it very clear that he's going to be really taking a hard look at EPA regulations, emissions, other kinds of pollution regulating�-- - regulations. I can't give you an exact list of which particular regulations he's going to be looking at, but if you look at the responses, high did release all of the responses that he received from the solicitations he sent out in a giant PDF of a couple thousand pages, and actually, people can go on-line and look at that, and see the kinds of regulations that some of the industries have expressed concern about.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And is it -- let me just bring my understanding to this, if I can, for a moment, would it be better if your investigation -- in your eyes, if your investigation had found that the staff members on the over sight committee for the majority party were basically queer investigate ors or nonaligned nonpartisan lawyers, just looking into these things fresh without having any alliances or former employer it is who were the subject of these investigations?

HEARN: I don't want to dodge your question, but I don't want to say that it would have been better or not of many of -- most of the people he has hired are long time held workers, they have been in Washington fair language time, we were not able to notice request particular connections to industries, there were certain ones that jumped out at us that required greater scrutiny. I think for us at the Watch Dog Institute, the big thing for us is transparency, and Mr. Issa has talked a lot about his being transparent in his investigations. And so we felt it was important to show -- to let people decide, we [CHECK AUDIO] about what the committee does, what its agenda is, what it has done so far. And let the readers of the story decide if they think it's appropriate or not.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Have Democrats pointed out request possible conflict of the makeup of the majority party staff or the witnesses subpoenaed before Issa's over sight committee?

HEARN: Not to us. I don't know if anyone else has really taken a look at the staff members like this. If they have, we haven't seen it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, are Democrats expected to play and role in the committee? You just said that they have this emphasis now, they're announcing this emphasis on the c banking and mortgage industry, but what kind of a role do they have to play as the minority party on this over sit committee.

HEARN: Well, as I said, they really haven't announced a full agenda. They certainly have questioned IT Elijah Cummings, who is the [CHECK AUDIO] Democrat from Maryland has challenged some of Mr. Issa's actions so far. [CHECK AUDIO] they apparently had a discussion at the end of January to try to talk about what the -- what the agenda might be, and how the two sides might interact, I don't know what the result of that was. But so far there hasn't been a lot of conversation from the Democrats, they have a staff, they're allowed to have a staff of -- I believe the list was something like 50 people that nay have, so I'm assuming that they're gonna be doing some investigations of their own.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, I'm sure that the Watchdog institute will continue to investigate for transparency.

HEARN: We'll.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much, Lorie Hearn.

HEARN: Thank you for having us, Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Lorie Hearn, executive director of the Watch Dog Institute. If you would like to comment please go on line, Days. Coming up, we'll hear from journalist Roxana Saberi about being imprisoned in Iran. That's as These Days continues here on KPBS.

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