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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Justice and Congressional Oversight in the Era of Issa

Yesterday's New York Times featured a prominent story on Congressman Darrell Issa, chairman of the powerful House Committee on Oversight and Government reform. One of the wealthiest members of Congress, Issa has also become one of the most forceful activists for corporate power. Upon assuming the chairmanship of his committee, Issa asked business and industry leaders to tell him which government agencies and regulations his committee should subject to scrutiny, and his hearings are becoming known for their single-minded pursuit of Issa's pro-corporate agenda.

The Times examines Issa's committee actions, not just in light of his pro-corporate ideology, but also in the context of his own personal interests:
Even as he has built a reputation as a forceful Congressional advocate for business, Mr. Issa has bought up office buildings, split a holding company into separate multimillion-dollar businesses, started an insurance company, traded hundreds of millions of dollars in securities, invested in overseas funds, retained an interest in his auto-alarm company and built up a family foundation.

As his private wealth and public power have grown, so too has the overlap between his private and business lives, with at least some of the congressman’s government actions helping to make a rich man even richer and raising the potential for conflicts.
Though the Times focuses on Issa's personal motivations for his pro-corporate leanings, his ideology is also worth investigating. 

Slate's Dahlia Lithwick last week examined Issa's worldview in the context of committee actions against the National Labor Relations Board. Lithwick states that Issa's crusade "makes sense only if you are a subscriber to the nihilist worldview that virtually all government agencies are corrupt, socialist minions of Obama."
What has Issa been doing in the name of "oversight"? Well, this past week he issued a congressional subpoena for all the NLRB documents related to the Boeing matter—while the matter is still pending before an administrative law judge in Seattle. For those who believe the NLRB is comprised solely of beings hatched and raised in secret underground labs by the Obama family in order to foment worldwide socialism, this is good news. Mumble, mumble, "job-killing," mumble and such. But as 34 labor and legal experts pointed out in a letter sent to Issa last month, this unprecedented demand for "[a]ll documents and communications relating to the [NLRB's] Office of General Counsel's investigation of Boeing" imperils not only an ongoing case but also the functioning of the NLRB in the future. As the professors warn, oversight is clearly important, but "other congressional committees routinely manage to carry out their oversight functions without intruding into active cases." The administrative law judge overseeing the case recently denied Boeing's request for just such material. Why should Congress gain access to privileged material for only one side of the case?
Click here to read the rest of the Slate article.

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