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Rep. Darrell Issa’s work on the Oversight Committee is getting personal. Literally.
In mid-February, videos posted by the California Republican’s staff on the YouTube page of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee contained a production credit for “DEI Productions” instead of the “Oversight Productions” moniker his office had used on other committee videos.
It may be a simple case of cross-posting videos, but the personal branding extends deeply into Issa’s personal history and wealth.
DEI stands for Darrell Edward Issa, but the DEI brand is also closely tied to Issa’s corporate affairs, close enough to raise the eyebrows of Congressional ethics watchdogs.
Issa maintains dei.com, which has served as a portal to two of his family companies and his Congressional campaign website. The site had a disclaimer at the bottom saying it was paid for by Issa’s campaign, but after Roll Call inquired about the site Tuesday, that language was removed and the link to the campaign site appeared to have been removed.
The header on the site reads “ISSA – US Congressman,” but it was originally the corporate address for the car alarm company Issa ran before he came to Congress, Directed Electronics Inc.
For watchdogs, the concern is whether Issa has clearly separated his campaign and corporate entities. In general, candidates cannot use their corporate resources to support their campaigns.
“When you go on a site and it says, ‘Here are my corporate accounts and here is my Congressional account,’ there should be a Chinese wall there,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center. Dei.com made it appear “that the corporate entities and the campaign entity are just subsidiaries of each other.”
McGehee also pointed out that the link to the campaign website said “US Congressman Darrell Issa’s Site,” which could lead a visitor to believe it was the official Congressional website rather than the campaign site. Late Tuesday, the campaign site link was removed.
Issa’s office said the dei.com address is “a personal asset” that the Congressman retained when he sold Directed Electronics. That sale made Issa wealthy. Last year, Roll Call ranked Issa as the richest Member of the House, with a minimum net worth of $160 million.
Dei.com was apparently converted briefly into a campaign website when Issa decided to run for office in 1999. An image of the site retained by the Internet Archive features a “Darrell Issa, U.S. Congress” logo and a statement about his decision to run. The site also had a disclaimer saying it was “Paid for by Darrell Issa for U.S. Congress.”
The dei.com domain is not solely used by the portal website. One of the family companies listed on the site, Greene Properties — a property management company that employs Issa’s wife and son and is valued on his most recent disclosures at $25 million to $50 million — also uses dei.com addresses for it employees. Dei.com is registered at the office address of Greene Properties, and the listed administrator for the site is the IT manager at Greene Properties.
Issa’s campaign finance reports make no mention of any in-kind donations from DEI or Greene Properties, nor has Issa ever paid DEI, Directed Electronics or Greene Properties from his campaign accounts for website management.
Issa spokesman Seamus Kraft said Tuesday: “The dei.com URL is a personal asset of Mr. Issa’s that was retained by him when he sold Directed Electronics prior to his election to Congress. With respect to a disclaimer, it was included on the page out of an abundance of caution. Congressman Issa would rather over-disclaim than potentially leave a disclaimer off something that legally required one. After reviewing the site with the [Federal Election Commission], it was determined the disclaimer was not necessary and it has been removed.”
As to the appearance of the DEI brand name on Oversight Committee videos, Kraft said that tag is generally used to differentiate Issa’s personal office videos from his committee videos, but sometimes the two end up co-mingled.
“Videos produced primarily for use on Congressman Issa’s personal office YouTube page — youtube.com/repdarrellissa — often contain a DEI Productions and Issa.house.gov tag at the end to give the viewer a website to visit for more information on the video’s subject matter,” Kraft said. “Videos produced primarily for use on the Oversight Committee YouTube page — youtube.com/oversightandreform — often contain an Oversight Productions and oversight.house.gov tag at the end to give the viewer a website to visit for more information on the video’s subject matter. Occasionally, videos produced for one page are cross-posted on the other.”
Roll Call reported last fall that Issa’s office was posting videos that were more overtly political than the language generally allowed in written material produced with taxpayer dollars. Since Issa has become chairman of the committee, the videos posted on the committee’s site and YouTube page have appeared to be less partisan, mostly detailing the committee’s agenda or providing clips of testimony of Members’ television appearances.
Alex Knott and Mackenzie Weinger contributed to this report.