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Issa’s Trade Show Visits Blur Congressional, Personal Business

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In 2010 and 2011, two of Issa’s staff members filed “gift/travel” forms with the Ethics Committee saying their travel was paid for by the association, along with a flock of other House staff and Members. But Issa did not file travel forms, and spokesman Frederick Hill said it was because he traveled as a board member of DEI on personal business.

For this year’s show, Issa was accompanied for part of the trip by his then-spokesman Kurt Bardella, whose $447 travel tab was paid for by the Oversight Committee, according to committee records. The committee report indicates that Bardella was at the show “for official committee business.”

A profile of Issa by Ryan Lizza that ran in the New Yorker in January said, “Issa stood with Bardella at the booth for Directed Electronics, where he is still on the board of directors, and talked to some of his former employees.”

Bardella was fired earlier this week for leaking reporters’ e-mails to a New York Times reporter who is working on a book.

Hill said Bardella traveled to Las Vegas specifically to participate in Issa’s interview with Lizza, but that was not the primary purpose of the trip for Issa. The Congressman’s primary purpose was personal — the meeting of the DEI board — Hill added, and “it wouldn’t be appropriate to spend official funds when the primary purpose and majority of the trip” was Issa’s board duties.

Hill said Issa cleared this arrangement with the Ethics Committee. “We explained it to House Ethics, and this was their recommendation.”

The House ethics manual says that House rules prohibit “the use of private funds or in-kind support from outside sources for official activities,” meaning that Issa could not use company money to fly to a Congressional event. But the manual also accepts the possibility of “mixed purpose trips.” In those cases, the Member or staffer “must determine the primary purpose of the trip,” and the source of that primary purpose must pay the airfare and all other expenses of the trip. Both Issa and Bardella appear to have met this requirement.

And if Issa is indeed traveling in his personal capacity, he is not bound by the disclosure requirements that cover official Congressional travel, nor the limits on how many days he can spend on the ground at the sponsor’s expense.

But the trip highlights the thin line between Issa’s corporate and Congressional activities. Roll Call reported earlier this week that Issa has long maintained a dei.com website that served as a portal to DEI Holdings, a second family company called Greene Properties and his Congressional office. The website carried a disclaimer that it was paid for by Issa’s campaign, but after Roll Call’s inquiries, the Congressional and campaign links were removed from the site.

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