Attendees at the January Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas may have been confused when they ran into Darrell Issa: Were they meeting the California Republican Congressman and new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee? Or were they meeting the board member of a private company Issa founded called DEI Holdings Inc.?
Issa declared he was there as a board member on personal business, and therefore exempt from House ethics rules governing travel provided to Members by outside parties. But his press secretary, standing next to him, declared he was there on official Oversight Committee business, and the Committee paid his way.
Issa approved the travel of two personal office staffers to attend the glitzy gadget event and let the Consumer Electronics Association, the sponsor, pay the tab, all of which was properly reported to the Ethics Committee. Dozens of other Members and staff also accepted the association’s invitation to the event and traveled in their official Congressional capacity. Documents on file with the Ethics Committee indicate that Issa was invited in his official capacity, but he traveled instead as a private businessman.
Before his election to Congress, Issa made millions from a car alarm company he founded called Directed Electronics Inc. and served as chairman of the Consumer Electronics Association, the trade group that puts on the annual show in Las Vegas.
When he came to Washington in 2001, he sold the firm, now known as DEI Holdings, but continues to serve on the board, though his financial disclosure forms indicate that he holds no stock in the company. As of 2010, Issa was Congress’ richest Representative, with a net worth of at least $160 million.
Issa has returned every year to the electronics show, and for several years he traveled as other Members and staff did: by accepting the trip from the trade association as part of his official duties and reporting the trip to the Ethics Committee as a gift.
But after Congress tightened the rules on Congressional travel, Issa began going to the trade show on personal business, as a director of DEI. He told the Hill newspaper in a 2010 video interview that new House ethics rules made it harder for Members of Congress to attend the event. “I’m here on my own dime,” Issa said. “If you are here as a ‘guest of the show,’ you can only be on the ground for less than 24 hours.”
But Issa wasn’t really there on his own dime. According to his 2010 financial disclosure form, his travel to the 2009 show, food and lodging were paid for by Directed Holdings Inc. The form indicates that Issa “Attended Board Meeting.”