Darrell Edward Issa (/ˈaɪsə/; born November 1, 1953) is the Republican U.S. Representative for California’s 49th congressional district, serving since 2001. The district (numbered the 48th District during his first term) covers the northern coastal areas of San Diego County, including cities such as Oceanside, Vista, Carlsbad and Encinitas, as well as a small portion of southern Orange County. Since January 2011, he has served as Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Issa was formerly a businessman. He made his fortune manufacturing car alarms and theft deterrent systems. Issa wasCEO of Directed Electronics, a Vista, California-based manufacturer that he co-founded in 1982. It is currently one of the largest makers of automobile aftermarket security and convenience products in the US. Issa is a multi-millionaire with a net worth estimated at about $355 million (in 2013), which makes him the wealthiest currently-serving member of Congress.
Early life, education, and military service
Issa, the second of six children, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Martha (née Bielfelt) and William Issa, who sold trucks andground valves. His father was Eastern Orthodox and his mother was a Mormon. His paternal grandparents wereLebanese immigrants who both belonged to the Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and his mother is of German andBohemian (Czech) descent. In 2006, he was one of four Arab-American members of Congress.
The family moved to the predominantly Jewish suburb of Cleveland Heights in the later years of his childhood. Many of his friends were Jewish, and Issa reportedly worked for a rabbi at one point. He became very familiar with Jewish culture.
On his 17th birthday, he dropped out of high school and enlisted for three years in the Army. He became an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician assigned to the 145th Ordnance Detachment. Trained to defuse bombs, Issa stated that his unit provided security for President Richard Nixon, sweeping stadiums for bombs prior to games in the 1971 World Series. A May 1998 investigation by Lance Williams of the San Francisco Examiner found that Nixon had not attended any of that year’s World Series games, but that Issa’s unit did perform security sweeps for the World Series. After the World Series Issa was transferred to a supply depot after receiving poor ratings. According to Issa, the Examiner reporter misunderstood an anecdote he had related. A fellow soldier from that time, Jay Bergey, claimed that Issa stole his Dodge Charger in 1971, stating: “I confronted Issa … I got in his face and threatened to kill him, and magically my car reappeared the next day, abandoned on the turnpike.” No charges were ever filed. Issa has denied any theft.
After receiving a hardship discharge in 1972 after his father suffered a heart attack, Issa earned a General Educational Development (GED) certificate. Twice that year, he was arrested. In the first incident he was indicted by a grand jury for an alleged theft of a Maserati, but prosecutors dropped the charge. In the second incident, he was stopped for driving the wrong way on a one-way street, and a police officer noticed a firearm in his glove compartment. Issa was charged withcarrying a concealed weapon. He pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of an unregistered firearm, and was sentenced to six months’ probation and a small fine. Issa has said he believes the record has since been expunged.
Issa attended Siena Heights University, a small Roman Catholic college in Adrian, Michigan, followed by Kent State University at Stark, where he enrolled in the Reserve Officer Training Corps and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He served in the Army Reserve from 1976 to 1980 and was promoted to the rank of captain.While serving on active duty for training with the 1/77th Armor Battalion as an Assistant S-1 from September 9 to 26, 1980, he received an evaluation report by then-Lt. Col. Wesley Clark, who wrote “This officer’s performance far exceeded that of any other reserve officer who has worked in the battalion” and “Promote ahead of contemporaries. Unlimited potential.”
Shortly before his discharge in 1980, Issa was again indicted for grand theft auto. According to court documents, his brother, William Issa, had gone to a used car dealerand offered to sell his brother’s car, a 1976 Mercedes sedan, while impersonating his brother. With an Ohio driver’s license belonging to Darrell, William was given $16,000 for the car from the dealer. Shortly after the sale, Darrell reported the car stolen and told the police that he had left the title in the trunk. During the investigation Darrell reportedly gave conflicting statements as to whether or not he had recently obtained a replacement driver’s license. The brothers were indicted for grand theft. Darrell claimed he had no knowledge of his brother’s impersonation and sale, while William claimed that his brother had authorized him to sell the car. As the investigation continued, Darrell went to the dealership the car was sold to and repurchased his car. A few months later, investigators dropped the charges against him. In 1981 in Cleveland, Darrell Issa crashed a truck he was driving into another motorist’s car and, according to court records, Issa told her that he did not have time to wait for the police and left the scene. The other motorist sued Issa for $20,000; they eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
After leaving the military, Issa and his second wife, Kathy Stanton, moved back to the Cleveland area. According to Issa, he and his wife pooled their savings, sold their cars: a 1976 Mercedes and a 1967 VW Beetle as well as a BMW motorcycle and borrowed $50,000 from family members to invest in Quantum Enterprises, an electronics manufacturer run by a friend from Cleveland Heights that assembled bug zappers, CB radio parts and other consumer products for other companies. One of those clients,car alarm manufacturer Steal Stopper, would become the path to Issa’s fortune. It was struggling badly, and he took control of it by foreclosing a $60,000 loan he had made to it when its founder, Joey Adkins, missed a payment. Adkins remained as an employee.
Issa soon turned Steal Stopper around, to the point that it was supplying Ford with thousands of car alarms and negotiating a similar deal with Toyota. But early in the morning of September 7, 1982, the offices and factory of Quantum and Steal Stopper in the Cleveland suburb of Maple Heights caught fire. The fire took three hours to put out. The buildings and almost all the inventory within were destroyed. An investigation of the cause of the fire noted “suspicious burn patterns” with fires starting in two places aided by an accelerant such as gasoline.
Adkins said Issa appeared to prepare for a fire by increasing the fire insurance policy by 462% three weeks previously, and by removing computer equipment holding accounting and customer information. St. Paul Insurance, suspicious of arson and insurance fraud, initially paid only $25,000, according to Issa.
Steal Stopper soon regained its previous prosperity. As car theft rose in the United States during the 1980s, so did the demand for security devices. Rolls Royce, BMW, and General Motors joined Ford and Toyota as customers. In 1985, Issa sold the company to a California-based maker of home alarms, and moved to the San Diegosuburb of Vista, where he has lived ever since, to work for the company. Shortly afterward he left to start Directed Electronics, Inc. (DEI).
Issa was able to use his knowledge of the weaknesses in automotive security that car thieves preyed on to develop effective theft deterrents. Using sensors that woulddetect motion and pressure on the body of the car when armed, his design would create loud noise to draw attention to a would-be car thief, such as the car’s hornhonking or a speaker playing a recording with Issa’s voice saying: “Protected by Viper. Stand back” and “Please step away from the car”, warning for DEI’s signature product, the Viper car alarm. Sales grew from a million dollars its first year to $14 million by 1989.
Early political career
From his involvement in consumer-electronics trade organizations, he started becoming politically active. He went to Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress and became one of California‘s largest individual campaign contributors to Republican candidates. In 1996, he was chairman of the successful campaign to pass California Proposition 209, a ballot initiative which prohibited public institutions in California from considering race, sex, or ethnicity in the areas of public employment, public contracting orpublic education. He was instrumental in persuading the national Republican Party to hold its 1996 convention in San Diego.
1998 U.S. Senate election
Issa’s first campaign for elected office came in 1998, when he sought the Republican nomination for United States Senate to run against incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer. He backed the campaign with $10 million of his personal wealth, but lost the primary election to California State Treasurer Matt Fong. Fong’s campaign raised $3 million from contributions and complained that Issa’s wealth made for an uneven playing field (Issa had only $400,000 in contributions). An Issa spokesman countered that the money was needed to compensate for Fong’s statewide name recognition. Fong defeated Issa 22%–20%. A San Francisco exit poll suggested large numbers of Asian-Americans, who typically vote in the Democratic party primary, had crossed party lines to vote for Fong.
U.S. House of Representatives
Nine-term incumbent Republican U.S. Congressman Ron Packard decided to retire two years after Issa’s senate bid. Issa capitalized on his name recognition from the 1998 Senate race and decided to run for California’s 48th congressional district. The district was primarily based in San Diego County, but did have small portions inRiverside and Orange counties. He finished first in the all-party primary with 35% of the vote, winning a plurality in all three counties. He defeated Republican State Senator Bill Morrow, who got just 24% of the votes. He won the November general election, defeating Democratic nominee Peter Kouvelis 61%–28%.
After redistricting, Issa’s district was renumbered as the 49th District. He lost his share of Orange County. Like its predecessor, this district was heavily Republican; it had a Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) of R+10. No Democrat filed against him that year. He won re-election to a second term, defeating Libertarian nominee Karl Dietrich 77%–22%.
Issa won re-election to a fourth term, defeating Democratic nominee Jeeni Criscenzo, 63%–33%.
Issa won re-election to a fifth term, defeating Democratic nominee Robert Hamilton, 58%–37%. The 21-point margin of victory was the second smallest in his career. He carried San Diego with 60% of the vote and Riverside with 57% of the vote.
Issa won re-election to a sixth term, defeating Democratic nominee Howard Katz 63%–31%.
After redistricting, Issa ran in the newly redrawn 49th district. It lost its share of Riverside County, along with most of its share of inland San Diego County. In their place, a small portion of Orange County was added. The new 49th was approximately six points less Republican than its predecessor. The old 49th had a PVI of R+10, making it the most Republican district of the five that divide San Diego. The new 49th, however, has a PVI of R+4.
Issa won re-election to a seventh term, defeating the Democratic nominee, Jerry Tetalman, 58%–42%. The sixteen-point margin of victory was the smallest in Issa’s political career. He carried the San Diego part with just 55% of the vote, while he dominated the Orange County part with 66% of the vote.
The open primary in June was contested by Issa and two Democrats: Dave Peiser and Noboru Isaga. The top two vote getters, Issa (62%) and Peiser (28%), advanced to the general election. In the November election Issa was elected to an eighth term, 60% to 40%.
In 2001 Issa voted for the authorization of the PATRIOT Act and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. He voted for the reauthorization of the Patriot Act in 2005 after successfully amending it to require judicial notification, reporting requirements and facts justifying the use of roving survelliance at new facilities or places.
Issa has said he supports efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He voted against a cap and trade bill designed to cut them. Issa believes that “the science community does not agree to the extent of the problem or the critical threshold of when this problem is truly catastrophic.”
He has been critical of No Child Left Behind, supporting a modification that would, in his words, “give states the freedom to adopt best practices for their students by returning flexibility and control to the educators and parents who are the real experts on education”.
He is opposed to the Stop Online Piracy Act based on the amount of discretion the Department of Justice would have under the legislation as it is currently drafted. He plans to propose amendments that would reduce that discretion. Issa subsequently went on to cosponsor the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act.
He co-sponsored both the 2008 and 2009 versions (H.R. 6845 and H.R. 801, respectively) of the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act and sponsored the Research Works Act (H.R. 3699) introduced in 2011, all of which aim at a reversal of the NIH‘s Public Access Policy, which mandates open access to NIH-funded research.
Issa supported the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (S. 994; 113th Congress), a bill that aims to make information on federal expenditures more easily accessible and transparent. While ultimately it was the Senate version of the bill that passed the Senate and then the House, Issa was responsible for introducing the Senate bill’s companion House version, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2013 (H.R. 2061; 113th Congress).
On March 11, 2014, Issa introduced the Smart Savings Act (H.R. 4193; 113th Congress), a bill that would make the default investment in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) an age-appropriate target date asset allocation investment fund (L Fund) instead of the Government Securities Investment Fund (G Fund). Issa said that the bill “will ensure that workers who are planning ahead for retirement are investing in an account that works for them at every stage of their career.”
Issa also introduced the Federal Register Modernization Act (H.R. 4195; 113th Congress) on March 11, 2014. The bill would require the Federal Register to be published (e.g., by electronic means), rather than printed, and that documents in the Federal Register be made available for sale or distribution to the public in published form.
Issa supported the All Circuit Review Extension Act (H.R. 4197; 113th Congress), a bill that would extend for three years the authority for federal employees who appeal a judgment of the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) to file their appeal at any federal court, instead of only the U.S. Court of Appeals. Issa argued that “whistleblowers are a critical asset for congressional oversight” and that extending the pilot program would give Congress “more time to gauge the impact of an ‘all circuit’ review.”
In 2001, Issa’s district office in San Clemente was targeted in an aborted bombing plot. Jewish Defense League leader Irving Rubin was arrested along with Earl Krugel in connection with the plot, which reportedly had focused on other targets before shifting to Issa’s office.
Issa speculated that the cause of the incident may have been a column written by political commentator Debbie Schlussel in which she charged that Issa sympathized with Hezbollah despite its being listed by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization, charges he denied.
In September 2011, the liberal advocacy group American Family Voices filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics against Issa, alleging he had repeatedly used his public office for personal financial gain. Issa’s office rejected the allegations.
The year before that the Project on Government Oversight, a government watchdog group, awarded Issa with its Good Government Award for his contributions to government oversight and transparency. These included publicizing documents produced by the New York Federal Reserve Bank in response to a congressional subpoena, publicly exposing the NYFR’s secret “back-door bailout” of AIG‘s counterparties, and cofounding a Transparency Caucus dedicated to “promoting a more open and accountable government through education, legislation, and oversight.”
Middle East involvement
Issa is one of a few Lebanese-Americans in Congress. a total of five as of 2006, and has had a significant role in U.S. peace initiatives in the Middle East. He traveled to Lebanon and Syria in an effort to negotiate the end of the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. In 2003, he appeared at a Washington rally by Iranian groups protesting against the Islamic government in Iran.
Issa supported the use of military force in Iraq (2002) and Afghanistan. On June 16, 2006, he voted to reject setting timetables for withdrawal from Iraq. On April 5, 2007, Issa met with Syrian president Bashar Assad to discuss Middle East issues, one day after Assad met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
As of 2010, Issa served as a director of the American Task Force for Lebanon, a nonprofit organization working to advance Lebanon and its ties with the US.
After the 2008 elections, Issa was appointed ranking member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform ahead of some more senior colleagues. ChairmanEdolphus Towns clashed with Issa when Issa sought to investigate Countrywide Financial, which had granted Democratic U.S. Senators Chris Dodd and Kent Conradloans with especially favorable terms. Republicans had filmed Democrats leaving the room after a canceled hearing on Countrywide; Towns then changed the locks to bar Republicans from the room. They clashed again when Issa sought a special prosecutor to consider whether the Obama administration had unlawfully offered a federal job to Joe Sestak as an inducement to refrain from running against Arlen Specter for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania. Towns and Issa did cooperate on some matters, improving transparency of some federal agency reports, and a Government Accountability Office examination of the Federal Reserve.
Following the 2010 elections, Issa became chairman. He has become a vocal advocate for investigations into the Obama administration, including the Troubled Assets Relief Program, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, corruption in Afghanistan, WikiLeaks, and the Food and Drug Administration, among other issues. In 2010 he told the press that he wanted the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to hold investigative hearings “seven hearings a week, times 40 weeks.”
In February 2011, the Watchdog Institute, an independent nonprofit reporting center based at San Diego State University, published an investigation alleging that as leader of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Issa built a team which included staff members with close connections to industries that could benefit from his investigations.
On February 16, 2012, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing on the Department of Health and Human Services‘s regulation requiring insurance plans to cover birth control, which Issa believes is a violation of the religious freedom of people who oppose the use of birth control. Sandra Fluke was submitted as a witness by Democratic members, but Issa did not permit her to testify, saying her name was submitted too late, a claim which was challenged by Democrats.
In May 2013, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform passed by voice vote a bill that was introduced by Issa, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2013 (H.R. 2061; 113th Congress). H.R. 2061 aims to make information on federal expenditures more easily available, accessible, and transparent. The bill was scheduled for a vote on the House floor on November 18, 2013.
Issa introduced the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2014 (H.R. 1211; 113th Congress) on March 15, 2013. It is a proposed bill that would amend the Freedom of Information Act in order to make it easier and faster to request and receive information. The bill would require the Office of Management and Budget to create a single FOIA website for people to use to make FOIA requests and check on the status of their request. The bill would also create a Chief FOIA Officers Council charged with reviewing compliance and recommending improvements. This bill would also require the federal agency to release the information it disclosed to the person who requested it publicly afterwards. Issa argued in favor of the bill because it “shifts the burden of proof from the public requestor seeking information about a government agency…to the government being open and transparent unless it has a good reason to withhold.” The bill passed unanimously in the United States House of Representatives on February 25, 2014.
Issa introduced the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (H.R. 1232; 113th Congress) on March 18, 2013. It is a proposed bill that would make changes and reforms to the current framework that manages how the federal government buys new technology. One of the requirements would be that the government develop a streamlined plan for its acquisitions. The bill would increase the power of existing Chief Information Officers (CIO) within federal agencies so that they could be more effective. Each agency would also be reduced to having only one CIO in the agency, who is then responsible for the success and failure of all IT projects in that agency. The bill would also require the federal government to make use of private sector best practices. The bill is intended to reduce IT procurement related waste. It passed the House in a voice vote on February 25, 2014.
On May 7, 2014, Issa introduced a simple resolution in the House Recommending that the House of Representatives find Lois G. Lerner, former Director, Exempt Organizations, Internal Revenue Service, in contempt of Congress for refusal to comply with a subpoena duly issued by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The resolution holds Lois Lerner, one of the central Internal Revenue Service officials involved in the 2013 IRS scandal, in contempt of Congress for her refusal to testify about the scandal before Issa’s committee in response to a subpoena.
In April 2008, the Daily News reported that Issa questioned federal expenditures made after 9/11. He was criticized for making comments that the federal government “‘just threw’ buckets of cash at New York for an attack ‘that had no dirty bomb in it, it had no chemical munitions in it'” and asking “why the firefighters who went there and everybody in the city of New York needs to come to the federal government for the dollars versus this being primarily a state consideration.” In September 2009, Issa’s office released a statement indicating that his comments had been misrepresented and that the questions he asked concerned the then still unpassed bill H.R. 3543, which, according to that statement “would give U.S. taxpayer dollars to those who did not suffer physical injury and did not work at or around Ground Zero.”
- Committee on the Judiciary
- Republican Study Committee
2003 gubernatorial recall election
Issa came to national prominence in 2003 when he contributed over $1.6 million to help fund a signature-gathering drive for the petition to recall California Governor Gray Davis. At the time he made the contribution, it was widely believed that Issa intended to place himself on the ballot to replace Davis. However, following the entrance of fellow Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger into the race, two days before the filing deadline, Issa announced that he would not run. Issa later said his mission had been accomplished with Davis’ recall and that he wanted to continue to represent his district in Congress and work towards Middle East peace. At one point in the campaign he suggested people [clarification needed] should vote against recalling Davis unless one of the two leading Republican contenders dropped out, concerned that Schwarzenegger and fellow Republican Tom McClintock would split votes, resulting in Democratic Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante being elected to succeed Davis. Issa endorsed Schwarzenegger in the election.
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Following is the full transcript of a press conference held by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on the reported plot to bomb his California offices. Rep. Issa is the grandson of Lebanese immigrants. Other speakers: Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman (R-N.Y.), Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).
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