All posts by Lucas O'Connor

Brian Bilbray and Carl DeMaio: San Diego’s Republican Shapeshifters

If there’s one thing that’s been particularly consistent to campaigns of the far right in San Diego this fall, it’s the unusually desperate attempts to hide the real agenda from voters. It’s one that should be cause for optimism as long as voters pay attention, and betrays an almost impressive self-awareness from the top of the GOP that the party’s agenda has drifted well outside the mainstream.

From the special exemptions of Prop 32 to Brian Bilbray’s teetering re-election bid to Carl DeMaio’s bizarre mayoral campaign, extreme conservatives are doing everything they can to hide their record and who they are.

For the backers of Proposition 32, the deception was part of the design from the very beginning. They surveyed the political landscape and found that, unsurprisingly, nobody wants millionaires and corporations to be able to buy off our political process. Rather than abandon a wildly unpopular idea, they came up with a different plan: fake it.  

Cross-posted from San Diego Free Press

That’s Prop 32, from the same white knights of campaign finance reform who broke the system to begin with by using the Citizens United case to overthrow existing regulations on special interest money. This year, they simply took it a step further, called the plan reform and packed in enough special exemptions to create a system that only works for corporations and millionaires.

It makes sense because everyone wants campaign finance reform. But the reason they want campaign finance reform is specifically because of what Prop 32’s backers have done and continue to do.

The hundreds of millions of unregulated, unlimited political cash flowing into SuperPACs exists specifically because of Prop 32’s backers, and now its being funded by the Koch Brothers and other super-rich conservatives that saw Citizens United as the starting pistol to buy off democracy. Prop 32’s hoping to trick voters. Will they see through it?

At the same time, there’s Brian Bilbray. He has cobbled together a decades-long career of faking moderation when election time comes around, but the reality just doesn’t match the myth he’s built for himself when push comes to shove. Bilbray wants to cast himself as an environmentalist, but mustered just a 17% score on the League of Conservation Voters 2011 scorecard. And it was Bilbray’s early work trying to gut the Clean Water Act that once inspired Donna Frye to become a clean water activist.

He’s done his best to avoid the ramifications of the national GOP’s war on women, right on through to Todd Akin’s ‘legitimate rape’ comments. But the reality of his record remains, including a pitiful 8% score from Planned Parenthood’s scorecard. Brian Bilbray may not want to be lumped in with the war on women, but if that’s what he’s hoping for, maybe he shouldn’t have signed up for it in the first place.

All of that could maybe be overlooked if Bilbray had taken up the mantle of the millions of Americans devastated when the economy fell apart near the end of the Bush administration. But while Bilbray will certainly have populist talking points on the stump, it’s worth remembering that he voted for the Paul Ryan plan to dismantle Medicare and destroy Social Security in response to increased economic security.

And Bilbray’s plan for economic recovery? One part rewarding tax-evading corporate interests, one part Let them eat a Yacht Race! Not exactly your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.

For Carl DeMaio, the attempt to whitewash nearly twenty years as a professional politician has been even more depraved than elsewhere. After coming up with the likes of Newt Gingrich, Virginia Thomas, the Jack Abramoff crew, and the Koch Brothers, it seems to have dawned on Carl that the city of San Diego, well… really doesn’t like that at all.

During his tenure on the council, DeMaio has received the lowest cumulative score on the annual Environmental Quality Report Card. And despite being appointed since joining the council, DeMaio hasn’t appeared in the minutes of a single meeting of the San Dieguito River Valley Regional Open Space Joint Powers Authority since January 2011.

Reality didn’t matter to DeMaio though when he took a week out to declare himself an environmentalist. He didn’t get very far with that, so he moved on to a plan to encourage biking by investing in more roads. Doesn’t make sense? It isn’t supposed to. It’s just supposed to distract from his career-long record on the wrong side of these issues.

Word on the street is, DeMaio spent some time recently trying for an endorsement from the Victory Fund, which led to an unexpected declaration from Carl that he was pro-choice. It has to be considered unexpected since it was certainly news to Planned Parenthood. Why? Because despite the clear reasons that choice matters at the local level, DeMaio has always refused to fill out Planned Parenthood’s questionnaire. And today, if you’re looking for pro-choice candidates in November, you sure aren’t going to find Carl DeMaio on the list.

There are still more examples. He runs as a fiscal conservative while voting against hundreds of millions in taxpayer savings and getting the BS treatment from Mayor Jerry Sanders. He tried out medical marijuana but that fell flat once anyone read past Carl’s own statement.

He took a quick stab at being for the middle class and affordable housing over the summer, trying to pass off support from a landlord group as support for tenants. The claims were called “preposterous,” and the former CEO of the San Diego Housing Commission said in no uncertain terms that “Carl DeMaio is not an advocate for more affordable housing.”

Heck, DeMaio has even tried reaching out to the Latino community while trumpeting an endorsement from Pete Wilson, the father of Proposition 187. And after casting the only vote on the council in support of Arizona’s SB1070, his Latino outreach has featured a plan to have local police enforce federal immigration law.

The most amazing part is the special brand of doublethink that DeMaio has going on in all this. He isn’t just making up an entirely new self for the general election, he’s doing it while criticizing others for the same thing. Like last week at the KPBS mayoral debate:

“The U-T CEO mentioned that he got support from labor, and yet labor has not supported it, that he got support from business groups, but very few groups that are out there have supported the plan,” DeMaio said. “And so I just think that the email probably was making some claims that are not grounded in reality.”

Now, it wouldn’t be shocking to discover the UT making claims that are not grounded in reality. But compare that to DeMaio’s recent record. He’s an affordable housing advocate unless you ask affordable housing advocates. He’s an environmentalist unless you ask environmentalists. He’s a medical marijuana advocate unless you ask medical marijuana advocates. He’s pro-choice unless you ask Planned Parenthood. He’s a friend to the Latino community except for wanting them to be harassed by the police. He’s a fiscal conservative except for imposing a billion dollar tax increase without a vote of the public.

But when Doug Manchester and John Lynch — the very same duo who helped DeMaio defeat essentially the same tax increase in 2005 — don’t poll well, then maybe reality has come loose.

Does it work? Maybe not with anyone who has the time and interest to dig into the substance. But those who never catch more than headlines because they have lives full of working to make ends meet, struggling with health care bills, working into retirement thanks to Wall Street, trying to figure out what to do after a foreclosure… they understandably won’t ever have that time.

And that’s the whole idea. Keep up the game of whack-a-mole long enough that voters never get a chance to examine the truth.

It’s said that great writers steal outright, so here’s a heartfelt tip of the cap to the inimitable Ann Richards before saying: Poor Carl.

He’s never once had a job that asked him to appeal to a majority, or even anyone resembling moderates. So now that he’s stuck in a general election, he’s like Columbus discovering America. He’s found the environment. He’s found the middle class and working people. He’s found women. He’s found the sick and suffering. He’s found Latinos.

Poor Carl. He can’t help it. San Diego just doesn’t want what he’s been selling his whole life.

I’m proud to work for San Diegans for Bob Filner for Mayor 2012

Carl DeMaio, the next Scott Walker

Statewide, we’re all gearing up to beat back Proposition 32, that tries to give full financial control of our elections to corporations and millionaires that have already been running amok since Citizens United came down.

But down in San Diego, we’re already fighting what comes next. Carl DeMaio is running for mayor with big designs on becoming a national sensation for the far right, and if he gets momentum now he just might pull it off.

Prominent state and national GOP figures are already putting on Orange County fundraisers billing DeMaio as “The Next Scott Walker,” and his calling card has become the string of roadmaps and pathways that mirror Paul Ryan’s Roadmap for America’s Future. DeMaio knows how to become a champion for the far right, and he’s executing the playbook from DC step by step.

It’s a record that should have a familiar ring to anyone who’s been following the presidential race. Plucked out of college by Newt Gingrich, he worked on the Contract for America before moving on to the Reason Institute to have his work funded by the likes of the Koch Brothers and Scaife Family and fell in with the Abramoff crowd.

In a sadly familiar story, he made a personal fortune after starting companies to help the government cut jobs and outsource work, and help contractors to profit off the deals. Playing both sides of the street paid off handsomely for him.

The boldness of his hypocrisy and the things he outright makes up could almost be admirable if they weren’t so damaging. Running as a fiscal conservative, he’s orchestrated a new billion dollar tax payable directly to corporations. Even though voters rejected the same tax twice, he simply imposed it anyways.

He’s roiled many in San Diego’s LGBT community by accepting big campaign checks from some of Prop 8’s biggest supporters despite being a gay candidate himself. Reportedly, the price of those donations was a promise that “he would not push the gay agenda issues” as mayor.

Now in the general election, his claims have gotten even wilder.

After posting the worst cumulative score on the League of Conservation Voters scorecard since joining the city council, he’s declared himself an environmentalist based on nothing in particular.

He’s attempting to reach out to San Diego’s Latino community after announcing that local police should enforce federal immigration law and casting the only vote on city council defending Arizona’s SB1070 racial profiling law.

And now he’s announced he’s pro-choice, which would be great… but big news to Planned Parenthood. Of the four leading candidates for mayor in the primary, DeMaio was the only one not rated pro-choice by Planned Parenthood.

DeMaio’s gamble is that not enough people have been paying attention and the media won’t push back enough for all these bizarre claims to backfire on him. He’ll have millions in TV ads to make his case, and it remains to be seen whether the plan will work.

He’s already spearheaded dramatic attacks on public workers, championed outsourcing, and promised that he owes favors to the developers and contractors who are bankrolling his campaign. Along the way, he hasn’t hidden his plan to bring this agenda to the state level next.

If the state and national GOP is lining up to spend millions electing the next Scott Walker in San Diego, it’s time to push back. You can learn much more about what’s on the horizon at DirtyDeMaio, and stay up to date on Facebook and Twitter.

I’m proud to work for San Diegans for Bob Filner for Mayor 2012

Scott Peters announces Bilbray challenge

Second high-profile Democrat enters race against Bilbray

There’s been speculation for a while, but today Port Commissioner and former San Diego City Council President Scott Peters officially entered the race for the (new) 52nd Congressional District, challenging Brian Bilbray. He becomes the second high-profile Democrat in the race, joining former Assemblywoman Lori Saldana in the race.

From the Peters release:

“Some of our Representatives have worked within the Washington D.C. Beltway for so long, they’ve forgotten they work for the people back home,” said Peters. “I will bring an independent, problem-solving approach to Washington to help end the gridlock that’s hamstrung our current Congress.”

“The American people, especially San Diegans, don’t care as much about party politics as they care about their jobs, quality of life and their children’s futures. They are embarrassed and worried that our national representatives can’t put personal politics aside and put the people they represent first,” he added.

“The unrelenting partisanship in Congress has put our economy at even greater risk at a time when families already face unemployment and uncertainty at levels most have never experienced” he said. “We deserve better.”

The new 52nd was an immediate pickup target for Democrats as soon as redistricting maps went public, becoming much more of a swing district than in the past. The profile (via Meridian Pacific) is a tricky one: Obama won the district by 12 points, five points above the nation overall and in the same election, No on Prop 8 received a 52-46 advantage. However, both Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman carried the district handily in 2010, and Kamala Harris clocked in at a 13 point deficit. In other words — a lot will depend on what the Obama/Presidential year boost shapes up to be in 2012.

It also draws two well-known Democrats in a city without all that many well known Democrats, making it likely that the dynamics of California’s new top-two, ‘jungle’ primary will come into play. The announcement comes as House Speaker John Boehner came to town to headline a fundraiser for Brian Bilbray, underlining that Bilbray should have whatever funding he needs in the race and setting up fundraising capacity as a likely viability signal for the Democratic challengers.

Visit Scott Peters for Congress here.

Cross posted from Two Cathedrals

Darrell Issa bails on FCIC hearing after reality “didn’t fit the narrative”

With no warning or fanfare, today's scheduled Oversight subcommittee hearing on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Committee was cancelled earlier this week. But a picture is beginning to emerge as to what went wrong for Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa and why the plug was pulled.

Peter Kadzick, an attorney for FCIC Chairman Phil Angelides, told TPM that Angelides arrived in D.C. on Sunday night for the Wednesday morning hearing but was told by an Issa staffer on Monday evening that "they had found some documents at the last minute that didn't fit the narrative."

And a devastating new report (pdf) from committee Democrats found that those documents didn't just not "fit the narrative," but outright refuted them. Ranking committee Democrat Elijah "Cummings's report, which is based on 400,000 internal Commission emails, memos and other documents, finds that Chairman Issa's allegations are largely unsubstantiated.  

In contrast, the documents suggest that Republican Commissioners geared their efforts on the Commission toward helping House Republicans in their campaign to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act, rather than determining the facts that led to the economic crisis. The report also raises a host of new ethical questions about Republican Commissioners and staff, including evidence that they leaked confidential information to outside parties on multiple occasions."

If the hearing had been cancelled on Monday, it didn't slow Issa down Tuesday. Issa was on Twitter yesterday enthusiastically pushing attacks on the FCIC's findings, specifically from Republican FCIC member Peter Wallison. But the report from committee Democrats highlights a number of credibility problems for Wallison and other FCIC Republicans who dissented from its findings and have fueled Issa's pursuit. As Media Matters breaks down:

  • Wallison repeatedly sent emails to his GOP colleagues on the committee urging that their dissents not "undermine the ability of the new House GOP to modify or repeal Dodd-Frank."
  • Despite claims to the contrary that Wallison made in congressional testimony, the FCIC extensively reviewed his position that the economic crisis was caused by government housing policies, with all eight other commissioners rejecting that view.
  • Wallison was criticized by the FCIC's general counsel after leaking confidential commission documents to a colleague at the American Enterprise Institute in violation of the commission's ethics policy.
  • Republican vice chairman Bill Thomas and his staff provided an economic and political consultant who works at Thomas' law firm — which represents major banks — with a wide array of internal documents, in violation of the commission's ethics policy.

This isn't the first time that we've seen this sort of thing from the FCIC Republicans. Last year, they all voted to ban the terms "Wall Street," "shadow banking," "interconnection," and "deregulation" from the final FCIC report, and several of the committee Republicans had well-established conflicts of interest. But Issa has consistently criticized the FCIC findings, demanding a wide range of emails and other records because, as an Issa spokesperson explained, "Mr Issa says he wants to check that taxpayers got value for money in the investigation and to examine any potential conflicts of interest." Today's new report suggests a wide range of potential conflicts of interest, ethics violations, and congressional testimony that may have been purposely false, but the hearing is cancelled.

In the previous six months, Issa and other committee Republicans have repeatedly accused officials in the Obama administration of perjury or intent to commit perjury for as much or less than is included in this report. Issa's own staff released a sealed document in an ongoing federal criminal investigation, violating a court order. Now equipped with well-documented analysis of sweeping concerns over the behavior of Republican FCIC members, what will Issa do?

Immediately following the election last November that swept Republicans into a House Majority, Issa pledged to investigate financial issues regardless of party or partisanship. And he gave an interview in which he declared tougher standards for Wall Street:

Wall Street will have to accept a new level of scrutiny and demands for transparency for how they make decisions and the impact those decisions have on the economy. Main Street will hopefully benefit from this new degree of openness and accountability and I will continue to fight for their right to know.

Main Street's right to know relies on the accountability that the Oversight Committee exists to provide. If there were multiple ethics violations, inaccurate statements in Congressional testimony, and direct efforts of FCIC members to aid congressional Republicans, it strains credulity to imagine that the final report and its impact haven't been undermined to an important degree. It's the responsibility of Issa and the Oversight Committee to find out.

Issa recently said that he wanted to do more and better after his first six months running the Oversight Committee. In light of the revelations in this new report, the FCIC hearing could have been among of the most substantive and important of Issa's tenure. Instead, because reality "didn't fit the narrative," the hearing has been called off and thus far not rescheduled. Hopefully Issa will not dodge the issue entirely because it doesn't fit the narrative.

I’m proud to manage the IssaWatch project from which this is cross-posted with light edits. You can also follow on Twitter and Facebook.

Darrell Issa stocked up on Goldman Sachs bonds while blocking investigation

Darrell Issa is back in hot water for using his powerful Congressional perch to help his personal investments. A new report out today from Think Progress finds that Issa was busy last year buying up Goldman Sachs High Yield Bonds worth up to $50,000 a pop while pressing strongly to thwart an SEC investigation into potential wrongdoing at Goldman Sachs:

Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) raised hell last year to stop the federal government from investigating Goldman Sachs regarding allegations that the company defrauded investors. In April 2010, shortly after the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced a civil suit against Goldman Sachs, Issa sent a letter to SEC Chairwoman Mary Schapiro demanding to know if there was “any sort of prearrangement, coordination, direction from, or advance notice” between the SEC and the Obama administration or congressional Democrats over the timing of the lawsuit.

Issa’s investigation of the SEC’s investigation into Goldman Sachs stole the headlines and reinforced Goldman Sachs’ claim that they had done nothing wrong. Explaining his defense of Goldman Sachs, Issa said he was representing the views of ordinary Americans who are worried about the “growth of government and the growth of government wanting to become more complex, with more agencies and more control over our lives.”

This sheds additional light on Iss’s engagement in financial issues since taking over the Oversight Committee earlier this year, specifically reinforcing his strong resistance to any investigation or hearing that might reflect poorly on private financial institutions.

Issa has continued to bring heat on the SEC since taking over the Oversight Committee, targeting the Commission with one of the first subpoenas issued. The focus of his concern? Potential conflict of interest at the SEC arising from personal investments related to ongoing investigations. Of course.

But there’s much more…

Last month, subcommittee chair Patrick McHenry — bankrolled predominantly by the private financial industry — grilled Professor Elizabeth Warren for hours over the soon-to-launch Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, ending with McHenry accusing Professor Warren of perjury. Issa has strongly backed McHenry’s behavior, and Warren will be back to testify again on July 14th.

Issa has also targeted the bi-partisan Federal Crisis Inquiry Commission despite a miniscule budget after it assigned some blame for the financial meltdown to Wall Street.

Despite representing one of the districts hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis, Issa has consistently refused to pursue private financial institutions in his investigations into ongoing economic turmoil, and Issa had made increasingly outlandish excuses as he has refused four separate requests from ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings to issue subpoenas to major mortgage banks implicated in fraudulent foreclosure practices.

Since Issa has previously shown no compunction about personally profiting from what he does as a member of Congress, and we know that Issa prefers to stack his hearings with personal friends and campaign contributors, today’s revelations go straight to the heart of Issa’s credibility in all of these investigations and non-investigations. How can Issa conduct any investigations or hearings without an assumption that he’s seeking personal benefit before the country’s benefit?

I’m proud to manage the IssaWatch project from which this is cross-posted with light edits. You can also follow on Twitter and Facebook.

San Onofre Nuclear Facility experiences fifth spill 25 months

While much of America enjoyed an extended holiday, it wasn’t a seamless weekend for everyone in the region. San Diego CityBeat notes that at the San Onofre Nuclear Station, 70 gallons of sulfuric acid were spilled — the fifth spill in just over two years. As CityBeat notes, there was a hydrazine spill in February 2011 (“Hydrazine is highly toxic and dangerously unstable”), and two much worse spills of sulfuric acid — two spills in the same July 2010 day, and another spill in April of 2009.

The spill comes one month to the day after hundreds of locals attended a public meeting to voice concerns about safety at San Onofre, where an on-site safety inspector from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told the crowd that despite limited progress recently, “San Onofre is the leader still in safety concerns reported to the NRC.”

In March, NRC inspectors defended a long record of safety concerns at San Onofre including “a deficient “safety culture'” and an environment allegedly hostile to raising safety concerns. In the same month a manager with Southern California Edison, which owns nearly 80% of the facility, sued the company. He alleges that “he was fired for reporting safety concerns at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

In fact, new information from Japan finds that the Fukushima plant failed before the tsunami hit, meaning that the plant was designed to withstand a major earthquake and didn’t. Meanwhile, the NRC found that many domestic nuclear facilities are currently vulnerable to a wide range of natural disasters, including earthquakes.

An environment that is at best disinterested and at worst hostile to safety, a long and consistent record of safety violations, and new concerns that our domestic nuclear facilities may not be nearly as safe as we originally thought — it’s a recipe for disaster.

The San Onofre facility is in Darrell Issa’s district, so he has a particular vested interest in its safety. After all, it’s his constituents that are first in line if the worst should happen. And San Onofre’s safety record is troubling on a number of levels, including a clear and ongoing record of safety problems and potentially a culture that discourages employees from reporting safety problems.

But so far, Issa hasn’t shown much interest in pursuing nuclear safety. Maybe it’s because Edison International, which owns nearly 80% of the plant through SCE, is Issa’s third largest career campaign contributor. Issa has been supported by Edison’s PAC to the tune of $46,000 over his career, including $5,500 last cycle. That doesn’t include an additional $10,000 to Issa’s two PACs.

In fact, Darrell Issa has been an active impediment to safety reviews of domestic nuclear facilities. In the immediate aftermath of the terrible nuclear disaster in Japan, Issa called for questions into nuclear safety. But he hasn’t since asked them. Instead, Issa has pursued an investigation that began the same day as the disaster in Japan: demanding that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission produce a wide range of documents regarding the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump or face subpoena. And more recently, demanding to know why the NRC evacuated a wider area than the Japanese government around the Fukushima meltdown. This as the NRC was reacting in the aftermath of the Japanese nuclear disaster and conducting a full safety review of domestic nuclear facilities.

Just a month ago, hundreds of local residents came out to voice their concerns about the abysmal safety record at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Meanwhile, Darrell Issa is threatening the Nuclear Regulatory Commission with unrelated subpoenas while staying silent about nuclear safety. The most obvious explanation is that he’s defending the interests of a major campaign contributor who is responsible for the safety and operation at San Onofre. With the lives of thousands of Issa’s constituents at risk, even the appearance of bias in favor of his corporate backers is too much. It’s high time that Darrell Issa — the most powerful investigator in Washington — stand up for the basic safety of his district.

I proudly manage the Issa Watch program for the Courage Campaign where this was originally posted. You can follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Darrell Issa’s Big Oil Road Show

Sign the petition telling Darrell Issa Frack No! before his hearing on Friday.

There seems to be a bit of confusion at Oversight Headquarters as to what Friday’s field hearing in Bakersfield is going to be about. Last Friday, the hearing was “Pathways To Energy Independence: Hydraulic Fracturing And Other New Technologies.” By Monday, it had changed to “Can New And Safe Oil Extraction Technologies Help Address Gas Prices?” And yesterday, it was back to “Pathways To Energy Independence: Hydraulic Fracturing And Other New Technologies.” The renewed focus comes with word that the witness lineup for Issa’s hearing will be Bakersfield’s Republican state assemblymember and four representatives from oil and gas companies, including major Republican donors and representatives from Big Oil front groups.

Back in December, Darrell Issa sent his now-infamous letter to corporate lobbyists and industry groups asking them to recommend hearings for the Oversight Committee. Among the recipients were Big Oil groups with benign names representing a wide range of notorious organizations. For example, the Independent Petroleum Association of America. In its response, the IPAA focused on rolling back EPA regulations and streamlining the permitting process for both offshore and onshore drilling. Who is the IPAA?

The IPAA receives funding from a wide range of oil companies, including major funding (tens of thousands dating back to at least 1991) from Larry Nichols, the Chairman and CEO of Devon Energy. Larry Nichols is a leading GOP moneyman in Oklahoma, personally donating out of his own pocket more than $380,000 over the years to fund Republican candidates, candidate committees, and affiliated PACs across the country. Separately, Devon Energy’s PAC last cycle contributed more than $300,000 to Republican campaigns and campaign committees, including $11,000 directly to Oversight Committee members.

And testifying at Darrell Issa’s hearing on increased oil drilling and fracking this Friday will be William Whitsitt, Devon Energy’s Executive Vice President for Public Affairs.

Next up on the witness list is Tupper Hull, a Vice President at the Western States Petroleum Association. Members of the WSPA include heavy hitters like BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Occidental, Shell, Tesoro and Venoco. It’s a pretty definitive who’s who list of Big Oil power players, not to mention a group that dropped more than $6 million combined on Prop 23 last year. It’s also a group that really likes writing checks to Darrell Issa, year over year, including:

Chevron $23,500

ConocoPhillips $5,500

ExxonMobil $22,000

Occidental $7,000

Valero $19,500

And that’s not even beginning to explore the money they’ve sunk into other committee members.

Taking the same dais will be Steve Layton, president of Bakersfield-based E&B Natural Resources Management Corp, an oil and gas drilling company operating in several states. According to its website, E&B is owned by the New York-based Galesi Group, whose principal and CEO is Francesco Galesi. Aside from the obvious vested interest for E&B in expanding drilling, Galesi is a major political donor who has leaned significantly Republican as time has gone by in several decades of political contributions, including support for Bob Dole, George W. Bush, and disgraced former Congressman John Sweeney.

Finally, Rock Zierman, Chief Executive Officer of the California Independent Petroleum Association. Last cycle, CIPA, which lists fracking as its top federal priority, was good for a $2,500 check to Issa and nearly $240,000 to California state candidates — 86% to Republicans, including $4,000 to fellow witness Asm. Shannon Grove.

Helping to organize Issa’s field hearing and scheduled to attend himself is California Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy is the Majority Whip for the Republicans in the House, and a huge friend of Big Oil. His campaign collected more than $100,000 from the Energy and Natural Resources sector last cycle, including big checks from Koch Industries, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Halliburton, IPAA, Marathon Oil, Occidental Petroleum, Tesoro, and Valero. He’s also cashed $15,000 from CIPA.

There are also less direct ways that Big Oil is influencing Issa and the Oversight Committee. The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association also received Issa’s letter in December. Another umbrella group for a wide range of oil companies, the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association has deeper pockets thanks to major backers. Founded before the 2006 cycle, the organization functions largely as a mouthpiece for Koch Industries and major oil companies like Valero and Tesoro who provide major funding each year. We know very well that these groups have a major vested interest in opening up the process for more oil drilling and rolling back environmental protections because just those three combined spent more than $6.5 million last cycle trying to pass Proposition 23 in California. The so-called “Dirty Energy” proposition sought to indefinitely suspend landmark environmental protections passed in 2006. Prop 23 lost by a 23% margin despite the efforts of these groups, but Big Oil isn’t giving up that easily.

Speaking of Koch Industries, they’ve been dutifully funding the Republican members of the Oversight Committee ahead of this Congress. Just in this past cycle, the Koch machine helped fund a dozen Republicans on the committee, including a combined $15,000 to Issa’s campaign. Other committee members receiving funding from the Kochtopus last cycle:

Patrick McHenry $10,000 (PAC)

John Mica $2,500

Connie Mack $7,500

Tim Walberg $10,000

Jim Lankford $5,000

Pat Meehan $7,500

Trey Gowdy $5,000

Dennis Ross $10,000

Frank Guinta $5,000

Blake Farenthold $5,000

Mike Kelly $5,000

But in fairness, it wasn’t just the Kochs who were busy funding committee members. Last year Valero dropped $10,000 into Darrell Issa’s campaign and spread another $10,000 between other committee Republicans.

Issa also last year sent a copy of his letter to the grandaddy of Big Oil lobbyist shops — The American Petroleum Institute — which also targeted an easier permitting process for oil drilling, complaints about the Endangered Species Act, EPA enforcement of existing environmental protections, and concern that climate change worries will get in the way of more drilling. API has been lobbying for the oil industry for more than 90 years, and has foregrounded the promotion of fracking as a policy priority. API has spent at least $3 million annually lobbying Congress since 2003, including $21.5 million since just 2008.

What doesn’t currently appear on the witness list is anyone who might speak to the risks involved in fracking, or mention that there has yet to be a comprehensive study of the potential environmental impacts. Nobody who will look at the major fracking spill last month in Pennsylvania as a warning, just like Darrell Issa still thinks the Gulf Oil Spill is an indication that we should increase offshore oil drilling. None of it makes any objective sense, but after collecting hundreds of thousands from Big Oil and the Koch Brothers, maybe it doesn’t matter anymore if what you say makes any sense.

I manage for the Courage Campaign. You can join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Darrell Issa teams with Scott Walker to blast workers

Seems that Darrell Issa’s been getting restless holding hearings on Presidential libraries and Freedom of Information Act requests, ducking accusations that he’s used almost a million taxpayer dollars to subsidize his personal investment portfolio, and demanding that the Obama Administration’s unprecedented efforts to improve government transparency be slashed to pay for more tax cuts for billionaires.

So he’s decided to thrust himself into the national spotlight this morning. He’ll be bringing controversial Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to DC to testify before the Oversight Committee today about what Issa absurdly describes as “over-compensation of public employees.” While “over-compensation” is in the eye of the beholder, reality tells us that public employee costs have fallen and compensation has tracked with the growth rate of the economy. What Issa’s stunt does suggest is that after a career of trying to undermine unions and workers at every opportunity, the richest person in the House of Representatives is rapidly devolving from a legitimate watchdog into simply a rich corporatist backed by the Koch Brothers, defense contractors and telecom companies who now has subpoena power to do their dirty work in DC.

While Issa is giving Scott Walker a national soapbox for his anti-worker crusade, he’ll be continuing a long history of anti-union activity just down the hall. Last week Issa held unprecedented hearings on the labor negotiations at the Postal Service that’s poised to save $3.8 billion, investigating the internal machinations of a labor union in the same style as Joseph McCarthy’s union-busting escapades in the 1950s.

And specifically on Scott Walker’s pet project of breaking public sector unions, Issa has been echoing the cry all year. In January he published a long editorial blasting public employees for earning a middle-class wage, hitting all the now-familiar Walker high points. He led with a dubious, Glenn Beck-style history lesson, and then went on to launch co-sponsorship of a bill that would hit the pensions of public employees across the country that were unlucky enough to rely on the stock market before it collapsed late in George Bush’s term. Now facing gigantic funding shortfalls because of the funding collapse at the hands of the Wall Street investment barons that Issa is desperately trying to protect, Issa’s proposed bill would essentially lock in the shortfalls faced by public employees by cutting off access to loans or other federal assistance that might help bridge the gap.

This is hardly out of the blue. In 2009, Issa was out early blasting the Employee Free Choice Act that would have made it easier for workers to organize for basic rights, and in the same vein, made the rounds blasting SEIU for a wide range of reasons. It ran the gamut from single-handedly destroying the California budget, secretly controlling the Obama Administration, having the “California And US Governments By The You Know What,” and openly admitting that the public sector is the last front on blocking unions:

[Unionized workers are] almost all in government or working for government, and as a result influencing government…That’s our problem: The union movement in America is a federal, state, and local worker and their contractors movement. It’s no longer a private sector movement at all.

Also in 2009, Issa used official government resources and committee staff trying to tie SEIU to ACORN and the Obama Administration and accusing them all of criminal activity and conspiracy. It’s perhaps no surprise that when he sent a letter in January soliciting advice on what agenda he should set for the committee, he wrote to 150 groups representing business owners and none representing their employees. Among their top concerns? Worker protection standards and project labor agreements. He then convened a hearing on “the coming crisis” of state and municipal debt and within weeks of taking the gavel invited representatives of business owners and managers to the committee where they complained about high federal standards for worker treatment and not a single witness offering the perspective of workers who are protected by those standards.

Issa has been a business owner most of his adult life — one with a particularly questionable legal and moral history of management. For years he’s been an enthusiastic opponent of worker protections and union rights, and now his rich corporate cronies finally have him in a position to try and do some damage. He’ll be giving Scott Walker a national microphone because Darrell Issa has a record of fully supporting the same anti-worker stances that Walker has pushed in Wisconsin. And since Issa has failed every time he’s tried to run statewide in California, he’s using his perch in DC to continue the state-level assault on fundamental rights.

This is cross-posted from IssaWatch, which I manage for the Courage Campaign. You can also follow via Facebook and Twitter

Darrell Issa bribes himself with personal earmarks

As the richest person in the House of Representatives, Darrell Issa has a vast personal empire that includes a wide range of real estate holdings. His dealings around those real estate investments have raised legal and ethical questions in the past, and more recently Roll Call has questioned the line that divides his personal and political interests. This morning, ThinkProgress reports on a far more troubling conflict:

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.

Issa has said that an “earmark is tantamount to a bribe.” While Issa has handed out earmarks to his campaign donors in the past, in this case, he appears to be helping himself.

Issa has spent months indignantly insisting that he needn’t answer for any of his own transparency or ethical shortcomings, even after more than 18,000 signatures were delivered to his office demanding that he disclose his meetings with lobbyists. We made that demand so the public would know who Darrell Issa is really working for in Congress. Today we have at least part of the answer — himself.

(I proudly manage the IssaWatch project for the Courage Campaign, where this is cross-posted. It’s also on Twitter and Facebook)

Bilbray mocks nuclear concerns

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, throughout the course of his political career, Brian Bilbray has received more money from General Atomics than any other single source. The San Diego company offers a wide array of services to the nuclear industry and related arenas, and spends millions each year lobbying to support that business.

So perhaps it was no surprise over the weekend that Brian Bilbray took the Union-Tribune to criticize what he calls “hysteria” over nuclear safety in the wake of the terrible events in Japan. He compares it to reaction in 1979 to the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island — Bilbray calls it an “incident” — and declares those who want to revisit nuclear safety standards to be “fear mongers.”

As proof, he offers that the seawall protecting San Onofre is 50% higher than that at Japan’s Daiichi plant. That’s true. San Onofre’s wall is either 25 feet or 30 feet depending on the report which means that the 8-meter wall of water that swamped the Japanese nuclear reactor would overcome or at least threaten that wall. And studies in the immediate aftermath have put the peak height of the tsunami wave in Japan at 76 feet, with a wave of more than 32 feet hitting Sendai.

And the Japanese standard that guided the building of that wall was established based on historical precedent. While a difference of a foot or two may not produce nearly so dramatic a result, mocking the idea of reconsidering our standards is reckless and insulting. Plus, as recent reporting has pointed out, preparing for the previous disaster isn’t very effective:

The [Japanese] Trade Ministry dismissed evidence two years ago from geologists that the power station’s stretch of coast was overdue for a giant wave, minutes from a government committee show. Tokyo Electric Power Co. engineers also didn’t heed lessons from the 2004 tsunami off Indonesia that swamped a reactor 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) away in India, even as they advised the nuclear industry on coping with the dangers.

In just over a year, three corners of the Pacific Rim of Fire — Chile, New Zealand, and Japan — have been struck my major, deadly earthquakes. The North American Pacific coast is the last corner remaining. The notion from Bilbray that it is hysterical fear-mongering to re-examine these standards and ensure that we’re as protected as possible from preventable calamity is simply stunning.

The rest of Bilbray’s piece reads like it was written by the lobbyists at General Atomics, so there’s no need to go into it deeply. But as most of us watch day in, day out what can actually go wrong as it happens in Japan, it’s interesting that Bilbray opts to recite the pamphlet about how nuclear energy is our friend.

The related irony of all this is that Bilbray says right in the title that “science, not fear, should drive America’s energy policies.” It’s a noble sentiment, and one that I certainly support. It’s odd coming from Bilbray however, since less than two weeks ago he voted three straight times against acknowledging that climate change is real. A week before that, he voted to block the EPA from regulating industry greenhouse gas emissions, when Bilbray went so far as to accuse Democrats of trying to “hijack the Clean Air Act.”

There’s no doubt that we all share with Rep. Bilbray the goal of protecting American lives and American quality of life. Coming so transparently to the defense of his largest political benefactor to criticize, name-call and insult those who fear for their personal safety during ongoing, unspeakable tragedy is much less than we deserve from Brian Bilbray.

Cross posted at Two Cathedrals