Tag Archives: Darrell Issa

Darrell Issa: A Role Model for Who Exactly?

Darrell Issa, CaricatureCongressman has a long history of questionably legal activities

by Brian Leubitz

The sordid history of Darrell Issa has bee pretty well documented around here. However, CalBuzz put together a pretty good summary of Issa’s legal issues. It is well worth a read, but the gist of it is this:

So the next time you see Rep. Darrell Issa on “Meet the Press” or Fox News or any other national media outlet, you might wonder in a quiet moment, “Why is this man not in jail?”

Issa has been omnipresent on the media, trying to get something on the Obama administration. And while there are plenty of real investigations to be pursued (NSA??), Issa remains focused on issues that have the most political traction over actual real-life importance. Meanwhile, the long and sordid trail which led to Issa being a very rich man sheds light on who exactly he is ultimate goals: Darrell Issa is always looking out for Darrell Issa.

Image credit: Flickr user DonkeyHotey.

Confessions Of A Hollywood Professional: Why I Can’t Support the Stop Online Piracy Act

According to a report published by the AFL-CIO, online piracy costs content providers (mostly TV networks and movie studios) a lot of money. Around $20 billion annually. That, in turn, costs a staggering number of industry-related jobs – over 140,000 by some estimates.

As  a freelance film editor, this scares the hell out of me.  If the  networks and studios I work for don’t make money, sooner or later I’m  out of a job. And if I’m out of a job long enough, I lose my union  health benefits, my pension, the whole ball of wax.

I know it scares the hell out of my union, IATSE, judging by numerous emails warning how my livelihood is in grave danger from “foreign rogue sites” dedicated to wholesale theft of the intellectual property of my employers.

On the flip side, there were petitions filing my inbox from internet watchdog groups urging me to tell Congress to “preserve free speech”, and that if I didn’t, the “internet as we know it” would cease to exist.

Now, if you don’t know what they’re talking about, you’re not not alone. Until I started getting these emails, I too was blissfully ignorant about the alphabet-soup of anti-piracy  legislation currently grinding it’s way through the bowels of Congress –  the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate.

But as I researched the bills and clawed my way though mountains of evidence on both sides predicting internet Armageddon, I quickly realized online piracy (and the solutions being put forth to curb it) is something we don’t have the luxury to ignore. Because what happens in the next month could profoundly affect many aspect of our lives, not just how we interact online.

So I’ll make you a deal: If you’ll stick around to read this, I’ll spare you the hyperbole and techno-speak and explain what I’ve learned in plain English.

Please, let my pain be your gain.


SOPA and PIPA are designed to close existing loopholes in online piracy enforcement.  To explain how, I first have to talk about another law: the Digital Millennium Copyright Act,  otherwise known as DMCA.

Enacted in 1998, DMCA was Congress’s first attempt to deal with the brave new world of illegal file sharing. In a nutshell, it criminalized online copyright infringement while protecting “Fair Use” doctrine, as well as giving “safe harbor” to internet service providers (ISPs), websites and search engines which unknowingly hosted or linked to pirated material.

(I’ll circle back to “fair use” and “safe harbor” later,  but keep these terms in your head.  They’re really, really important – it’s why YouTube, Facebook, Flickr and even small sites like this blog aren’t sued out of existence every time someone uploads a photo or links to a movie clip.)

However, DMCA was limited. It only applied to domestic ISPs, websites and search engines. Why? Because US copyright law ends at our borders. Domestic plaintiffs can’t collect damages for overseas copyright infringement.

Of course, the first thing online pirates did after DMCA became law was set up shop overseas and out of the reach of US courts.

So ten years later,  Congress passed another law, the PRO-IP Act, which increased penalties and gave new enforcement powers to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency most recently known for mistakenly deporting a 14 year-old girl to Columbia.

ICE could, with a simple affidavit, obtain a court order to seize the site’s domain name and IP address.  Anyone clicking on a seized site would see this:

Even though hundreds of domains were seized ( a partial list here ), critics complained PRO-IP didn’t solve the “foreign rogue websites” problem. Perpetrators – especially those operating overseas – disappeared easily, escaping fines and summary judgments, quickly setting up new and anonymous Internet storefronts at will. Even if found, there was often no way of tying the individuals who ran foreign sites to assets in the United States.

Got all that?

Good. Because this is where the fun starts.


SOPA and PIPA are designed to do one thing and one thing only – tie online pirates to assets in the United States so our justice system can get at them to collect civil judgments and cut off sources of revenue.

Of course, making that happen is not so simple. The internet is a complicated, borderless thing which changes faster than a teenager’s hormones on a Pepsi high.

So the bill’s authors tried to come up with a number of different ways to skin the same cat.

  1. Extend the authority to seize domain names and IP addresses to foreign websites determined to be in violation US Copyright law.
  2. Compel domestic ISPs, websites and search engines to block internet access to any foreign websites determined to be in violation US Copyright law.
  3. Prosecute developers who offer products or services that could be used to  circumvent  the blockade of foreign websites determined to be in  violation US Copyright law.
  4. Compel domestic financial service providers (Paypal,  Visa, Wells Fargo, etc….) and internet advertisers to close accounts and block payments to any  foreign websites determined to be in violation US Copyright law.

The bills also includes a provision the American Bar Association labels “a rather novel reinvention of online”market-based” enforcement”  by allowing copyright owners and their agents to initiate a “private right of action” to seek termination of an infringing site’s advertising and financial services.

Lastly, this legislation gives blanket immunity to any US-based financial service providers, advertisers, ISPs, websites, and search engines which voluntarily blocks internet access or terminates its services. It does this even if the site’s owners did not  knowingly host pirated material, or the  allegations later prove to be unfounded.


Even without SOPA/PIPA’s First Amendment implications (you can read some pretty good arguments here, here and here),  the bills as currently proposed are horribly flawed documents devised by people who either don’t understand how the internet works, or worse, understand it all too well and are trying to game the system for unfair competitive advantage.

SOPA’s sponsor, Texas Republican, Lamar Smith, thinks any fears are “completely unfounded”.

The criticism of this bill is completely hypothetical; none of it is based in reality,” said Smith, R.-Texas, in a statement. “Not one of the critics was able to point to any language in the bill that would in any way harm the Internet. Their accusations are simply not supported by any facts…..they need to read the language. Show me the language.”

You’re on, Lamar.


As I said before, ICE has seized hundreds of domestic domains under the PRO-IP Act. Well, it turns out some site owners are fighting back, suing the government for violating their First Amendment rights, saying the law’s “seize now, ask questions later” enforcement equals prior restraint. In at least one case, a judge agreed, throwing out part of the government’s case and expediting the site owner’s suit.

And then there’s the Kafkaesque case of dajaz1.com, a popular hip-hop music site which had it’s domain seized in 2010, then restored over a year later – all without a single charge being filed.

As the details came out, it became clear that ICE and the Justice Department were in way over their heads. ICE’s “investigation” was done by a technically inept recent college grad, who didn’t even seem to understand the basics of the technology. But it didn’t stop him from going to a judge and asking for a site to be completely censored with no due process.

The site’s lawyer, Andrew Bridges, filed a motion to get the site back. Instead of responding as the law required, the government stonewalled Bridges while they secretly pursued multiple filing extensions from the court in order to hold on to the site.

The government was required to file for forfeiture by May. The initial (supposed) secret extension was until July. Then it got another one that went until September. And then another one until November… or so the government said. When Bridges asked the government for some proof that it had actually obtained the extensions in question, the government attorney told Bridges that he would just have “trust” him.

You can read the whole story here.  It’s not pretty. Eventually, the government unilaterally decided it didn’t have probably cause after all and just dropped the case without comment. 


Don’t expect oppressive regimes like Syria, Iran, or Burma to take our lectures about internet freedom seriously, not while Congress is proposing protocols for site blocking that China already uses  to restrict their citizen’s access the web.   

Worse, if ICE starts going after software developers, they’re going to have to go after contractors the State Department hired to do the very thing Congress just made illegal. 

Seriously. I’m not making this up.   Last June, the NY Times reported:

The Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy “shadow” Internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks.

The effort includes secretive projects to create independent cellphone networks inside foreign countries, as well as one operation out of a spy novel in a fifth-floor shop on L Street in Washington, where a group of young entrepreneurs who look as if they could be in a garage band are fitting deceptively innocent-looking hardware into a prototype “Internet in a suitcase.”

Financed with a $2 million State Department grant, the suitcase could be secreted across a border and quickly set up to allow wireless communication over a wide area with a link to the global Internet……

Some projects involve technology that the United States is developing; others pull together tools that have already been created by hackers in a so-called liberation-technology movement sweeping the globe…….

“The cool thing in this political context is that you cannot easily control it,” said Aaron Kaplan, an Austrian cybersecurity expert whose work will be used in the suitcase project. Mr. Kaplan has set up a functioning mesh network in Vienna and says related systems have operated in Venezuela, Indonesia and elsewhere.


First, by mandating provisions completely incompatible with next-generation internet security standards and secondly, by throwing US software developers into legal limbo.

It turns out targeting software which could potentially be used for circumventing blacklisted websites also means targeting the same security software we use to keep our personal computers safe from malware, networked businesses safe from denial-of-service attacks and even payments to online financial service providers like PayPal safe from theft.

Meanwhile, as legitimate software developers sit around twiddling their thumbs, 20 year-old hackers have already created workarounds to domain blocking in anticipation of SOPA/PIPA.

Have fun with that.



Supporters, including my union, like to point out that SOPA/PIPA only affects foreign websites. This is demonstrably not true.

Remember, the Justice Department has no jurisdiction overseas, but it does have jurisdiction over domestic ISPs, websites, and search engines, domestic financial service providers and domestic software developers. SOPA/PIPA may target foreign sites, but all the legal liability and compliance costs would fall on American companies. As techdirt.com points out,

We’ve been trying to make this point for months, and the folks in favor of these bills just keep ignoring it insisting time and time again that this is just about foreign sites. Most of those people have never been entrepreneurs. They’ve never worked at a company where the threat of legal action is a BIG DEAL, that can massively disrupt operations (and cash flow). They don’t realize that increasing liability, compliance costs and legal risks isn’t just a nuisance — it can force an entire business to shut down. We’ve talked about how these bills change things so that it’s not just two engineers in a garage any more, but two engineers… who need a team of a dozen lawyers.



Remember how I mentioned “fair use” and “safe harbor” at the beginning of this post?  Let’s circle back to that now.

I use a lot of social media – YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter to share  information, links, videos and other online content. And I do this  under the “Fair Use” doctrine, which allows me to use copyrighted material without permission for “transformative” purposes such as commentary, criticism and parody.

What  is a “transformative” use? If this definition seems ambiguous or vague,  be aware that millions of dollars in legal fees have been spent  attempting to define what qualifies as a fair use. There are no  hard-and-fast rules, only general rules and varied court decisions,  because the judges and lawmakers who created the fair use exception did  not want to limit its definition. Like free speech, they wanted it to  have an expansive meaning that could be open to interpretation.

Now, to illustrate my point, I’m going to link to this really cool video created by a fan of “Castle”, the ABC Television show I work on. Go ahead, have a look. I’ll wait.


Great video, isn’t it?

It also happens to be made up of hundreds of copyrighted clips I’m reasonably sure ABC Television never gave permission to use. But that’s OK, because I’m also reasonably sure the video is covered by Fair Use. But if I’m wrong about that, this is where DMCA’s “safe harbor” provisions come in.

Safe Harbor assumes I didn’t knowingly post anything which violates US copyright law.  So even if my ISP gets a take-down notice from ABC, Safe Harbor is supposed to protect me as long as I comply with the notice and remove the video.

Together, Fair Use and Safe Harbors allow for innovation because they create safe space for both free expression and honest mistakes. But content providers hate Fair Use and (more importantly) Safe Harbors because providers think these exceptions take the teeth out of enforcement, creating loopholes you could drive a truck through.

SOPA/PIPA gets rid of Safe Harbors. There is no safe space. A copyright holder can initiate a “private right of action”, convince a judge to issue an injunction (which we now know is way too easy to do) get your domain blocked, your advertising pulled and your finances frozen.

And thanks to to SOPA/PIPA’s immunity provisions, a copyright holder wouldn’t even need a court order shut you down, just a letter to your service providers threatening to.

This section says that anyone who takes voluntary action “based on credible evidence” basically gets full immunity. Think about what that means in practice. If someone sends a service provider a notice claiming infringement on the site under this bill, the first thing every lawyer will tell them is “quick, take voluntary action to cut them off, so you get immunity.” Even worse, since this is just about immunity, there are no counter notice rules or anything requiring any process for those cut off to be able to have any redress whatsoever.

Between blanket immunity, the loss of safe harbor, and the lack of any redress for impacted site owners, SOPA/PIPA actually incentivizes wholesale abuse.

It’s already happening. Entire legal industries have been built around responding to DMCA takedown notices in bulk. Thin-skinned businesses routinely ignore Fair Use to issue DMCA takedown notices against sites which criticize them. Unscrupulous content providers also sue legitimate online competitors for copyright infringement just to bankrupt them.

In 2007, Universal Music Group (UMG) brought a lawsuit against Veoh Networks (Veoh), a video hosting website, alleging that Veoh facilitated copyright infringement by providing a website that hosted videos containing music owned by UMG. On December 20, 2011, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a summary judgment in favor of Veoh and held that Veoh was protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (DMCA) “safe harbor” provisions….

While Veoh’s website was found to be perfectly legal, its victory is bittersweet; the small startup company filed for bankruptcy early in 2010 from the high cost of defending its case.

At least under DMCA, Veoh could keep it’s business running while the case was litigated.

The SOPA/PIPA bills, however, would have immediately shut Veoh’s website down before it even had its day in court, thereby keeping Veoh from running its business which, in this case, was ultimately found to be perfectly legal. There is cause for concern when copyright holders abuse the law to stymie innovative new startups.

There are also some nasty implications for political campaigns. Implications that ought to give the bill’s Congressional supporters pause.

Imagine you are running for Congress in a competitive House district. You give a strong interview to a local morning news show and your campaign posts the clip on your website. When your opponent’s campaign sees the video, it decides to play hardball and sends a notice to your Internet service provider alerting them to what it deems “infringing content.” It doesn’t matter if the content is actually pirated. …. If you don’t take the video down, even if you believe that the content is protected under fair use, your website goes dark.

I’m sure nothing like that would ever happen, because, you know, it never has before.

During the waning days of the 2008 presidential race, there was an important but overlooked occurrence on the John McCain campaign. In mid-October, the McCain campaign awoke to find that its Web videos and online advertisements were disappearing from its YouTube page.

The culprit turned out to be a major television network claiming they owned portions of the videos and that posting the clips was a violation of copyright law. Even though the campaign, and many others in the online community, believed the content to be privileged under the “Fair Use Doctrine,” the videos were pulled down.

John McCain, by the way, is one of PIPA’s co-sponsors.


What do Darrell Issa, Nancy Pelosi, the ACLU, Daily Kos, RedState.com, Markos Moulitsas and Ron Paul have in common? They all oppose SOPA/PIPA.

Personally, I’ve never agreed with Darrel Issa on any issue ever, but I agree with him on this.

How is this possible? Because the divide over SOPA/PIPA isn’t political, it’s between those who understand how the internet works and those who don’t,  those who see opportunities for growth and innovation and those who fear change and are holding on to old business models for dear life.

During the House Judiciary Committee’s SOPA hearings last December, it became nightmarishly clear Congressmembers who support these bills are in the “don’t understand how the internet works” camp.

It’s exactly as we feared….this is like a group of well-intentioned amateurs getting together to perform heart surgery on a patient incapable of moving. “We hear from the motion picture industry that heart surgery is what’s required,” they say cheerily. “We’re not going to cut the good valves, just the bad – neurons, or whatever you call those durn thingies.”

This is terrifying to watch. It would be amusing – there’s nothing like people who did not grow up with the Internet attempting to ask questions about technology very slowly and stumbling over words like “server” and “service” when you want an easy laugh. Except that this time, the joke’s on us.

It’s been a truism for some time that you can tell innovation in an industry has ceased when the industry starts to develop a robust lobbying and litigating presence instead.

Which brings me back to my union,  IATSE.

I believe my union leadership is acting in good faith to look after the best interests of its membership. But I don’t think my union leadership understands how the Internet works. By backing the industry’s position on SOPA/PIPA, I believe they’re tying themselves to a business model that simply can’t be sustained and won’t be rescued by badly crafted legislation.

Look, you can’t un-ring this bell. Internet file sharing, streaming  video, and movies-on-demand aren’t going away.  Fans of American  television shows and movies use the internet to form international online communities, upload their favorite clips via YouTube and share them on Twitter and Facebook. As an industry, we should encourage them. Because today’s “pirates” are tomorrow’s customers. 

It’s a brave new world out there.

We’ve been down this road before with the music industry. Ten years ago, while all the major record labels responded to file sharing by locking up content and suing Napster into the ground, Steve Jobs quietly developed iTunes. By tapping into a market that was already habituated to file sharing and offering quality content conveniently and legally at a price point people were willing to pay, Apple dominated the music industry while the record labels tanked.

We either follow the path of the record labels or we follow the path Apple took.  I’d rather follow Apple. And frankly, I wish IATSE was leading the charge.


PIPA is scheduled for a cloture vote in the Senate on January 24th, meaning it would take 60 votes to break a filibuster. So far 49 Senators are on record as supporting PIPA, which means they’d need 11 more to advance the bill to the floor of the Senate for an up or down vote.

Opponents of SOPA/PIPA have set up this handy website so you can find out which lawmakers support the bills. If it turns out your Congressmember supports the bills, click on their name and the site will take you to a page with their contact information. Please call them right away.

Unfortunately, both Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein are co-sponsors of PIPA. (Feinstein seems particularly clueless, stating she thought the tech industry were just fine with the bills)

Click on this link to get Barbara Boxer’s contact information

Click on this link to get Diane Feinstein’s contact information

Darrell Issa teams with Ron Wyden to Protect the Internet

Republicans and Democrats join together to pursue a more balanced legislation toward piracy.

by Brian Leubitz

They say that even broken clocks are right twice a day, and perhaps that is what this is about.  However, Rep. Issa managed to hit upon a topic that is near and dear to my heart to be on the right side of the issue.  Who knows, maybe there is something pecuniary in it for him, but I’ll just go with the fact that he is right on the issue and move along.

So, what exactly is Rep. Issa, a target for much scorn around here, being a solid leader for?  Well, that would be the legislative question surrounding copyright and the Internet.  Specifically, a Senate bill called the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) and its House counterpart, the PROTECT IP Act.  Here’s a quick summary about the Internet Blacklist legislation from the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

The “Stop Online Piracy Act”/”E-PARASITE Act” (SOPA) and “The PROTECT IP Act” (PIPA) are the latest in a series of bills which would create a procedure for creating (and censoring) a blacklist of websites. These bills are updated versions of the “Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act” (COICA), which was previously blocked in the Senate. Although the bills are ostensibly aimed at reaching foreign websites dedicated to providing illegal content, their provisions would allow for removal of enormous amounts of non-infringing content including political and other speech from the Web.

The various bills define different techniques for blocking “blacklisted” sites. Each would interfere with the Internet’s domain name system (DNS), which translates names like “www.eff.org” or “www.nytimes.com” into the IP addresses that computers use to communicate. SOPA would also allow rightsholders to force payment processors to cut off payments and advertising networks to cut ties with a site simply by sending a notice.

In the end, these bills could mean that America will have, much like China, a different internet than the rest of the world. Each of these two bills would endanger sites like DropBox or Box.net and even artist sites like Etsy.  Innovating new companies are likely to meet massive resistance from the oligopolies that run the copyright industries, and there is very little due process.  Domain names can simply be turned off at the drop of a hat, and you have to find a way to talk to somebody to get the site turned back on after the fact.

In other words, these two bills are an unworkable solution.  So, Rep. Issa and Sen. Wyden worked together to find a concept that would protect innovation while still working to protect rights holders and have released a concept bill called OPEN.  The bill might not be perfect, but it is a pretty good start.  Basically, the International Trade Commission would serve as a clearinghouse to review claims under OPEN.  Under SOPA, well, that would be banks and ISPs, large corporations that are entirely unaccountable to the people.

However, rather than dealing with OPEN honestly, the backers of SOPA resort to saying that OPEN “goes easy” on piracy. In response, Issa and Wyden launched KeepTheWebOPEN.com to solicit comments from the public, and in fact even invited the MPAA to mark up the bill.

“I’ve heard MPAA’s response to the #OPEN Act. I believe American artists and innovators – not to mention you, the digital citizen – deserve better than soundbites,” Issa said after the movie industry lobbying group argued the bill “goes easy on Internet piracy.” (The Hill)

DNS is too important to the Internet to monkey with, and the Internet is too important to our economy to rush into something before we know the consequences of those actions. We have a lot of legislation on online piracy already on the books, much of which was placed there in a pretty one-sided process. This time, let’s be sure to bring in all stakeholders in the issue to get a piece of balanced legislation that doesn’t “break the internet.”

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 IssaWatch.com 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)

Issa Watch Goes to Washington

I manage the IssaWatch project for the Courage Campaign. Rick Jacobs visited Chairman Issa’s office earlier this week to deliver a message from Courage members. He recounts his experience below.

With a petition containing over 18,000 signatures from Courage Campaign members –including thousands from residents of California’s 49th Congressional District — I stopped by Mr. Issa’s DC office on Wednesday to personally deliver our request that the Chairman address the growing disconnect between his record and rhetoric on the issue of transparency. Specifically, to publicly post his schedule online.

We’d written through official channels to request an appointment; we still have not heard back.

As you’ll see in the attached short video shot by our friends at Media Matters, I met Chairman Issa’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Veronica Wong, and asked her if Mr. Issa plans to respond to our request. She would not say. The saddest part of this whole thing is that Mr. Issa is the Co-Founder of the Transparency Caucus. But as you will see in the video, his Deputy Chief of Staff had no idea where he was. I guess Mr. Transparency has something to hide from everyone.

Thanks for stepping up to sign that letter. It’s a big deal to walk into Mr. Issa’s office and show how many people are watching.  That’s our job: Holding him accountable and even over time, setting an agenda that serves the people, not just Mr. Issa and his 150 hand-picked special interests.