Darrell Edward Issa (born November 1, 1953) is the U.S. Representative for California's 49th congressional district, and previously the 48th, serving since 2001. He is a member of the Republican Party. He was formerly a CEO of Directed Electronics, the Vista, California-based manufacturer of automobile security and convenience products. His district consists of portions of southern Riverside County and northern San Diego County. The district was numbered as the 48th District during his first term and was renumbered the 49th after the 2000 Census. Since January 2011, he has served as Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Aside from his service in Congress, Issa is also known for being a major contributor to the 2003 recall election of Governor Gray Davis, and a guest speaker at Republican events. His net worth has been estimated at more than $300 million, making him the richest member of Congress.
Issa was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the grandson of Lebanese immigrants. His mother was a Mormon and his father Eastern Orthodox; he was the second of their six children. The family moved to the predominantly Jewish suburb of Cleveland Heights later in his childhood.
Many of his friends were Jewish, and Issa worked for a rabbi at one point. He became very familiar with Jewish culture. His family identified as Lebanese rather than Arab, following the example of entertainer Danny Thomas.
Military career and education
Issa dropped out of high school and enlisted for a three-year tour in the Army on his 17th birthday. He served as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician, defusing bombs, after having been shown a movie about soldiers in that specialty during World War II. He would later claim his unit had provided security for President Richard Nixon, sweeping stadiums for bombs prior to games in the 1971 World Series, and that he had always received the highest approval ratings during his service. San Francisco Examiner found that these claims were not true: Nixon did not attend any of that year's World Series games, and at one point Issa was transferred to a supply depot after receiving an unsatisfactory evaluation. According to Issa, the Examiner reporter had misunderstood an anecdote he had related.
A 1998 investigation by the
A fellow soldier, Jay Bergey, claimed that Issa stole his Dodge Charger in 1971 while they were serving together and that, the day after he confronted Issa, the car was found abandoned on a nearby expressway. Asked about this charge in 2011, Issa denied it and suggested it was possible that other soldiers stole the car or that Bergey, whom he claims had a drinking problem, had abandoned it himself while intoxicated."
After receiving a hardship discharge in 1972 following his father's heart attack, Issa earned his General Educational Development (GED) certificate and began taking classes at Siena Heights University, a small Catholic college in Adrian, Michigan. He continued his military service in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC)."
Twice during that year he was arrested. In March, Issa and his brother William were charged with stealing a Maserati from a dealer's showroom in Cleveland.
Issa says it was a matter of mistaken identity by the Cleveland Heights police; the case was later dismissed.
Before that had happened, in December 1972, police in Adrian pulled Issa over for going the wrong way on a one-way street and, as he was retrieving his registration, saw in the car's glove compartment what turned out to be a .25-caliber Colt semi-automatic handgun inside an ammunition box, along with a military pouch containing 44 rounds, a tear gas gun and two rounds for that. Issa was charged with carrying a concealed weapon; ultimately he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of possession of an unregistered firearm. He was sentenced to six months' probation and paid a small fine. At the time Issa told police that Ohio law allowed such possession of a handgun with a justification; his was the need to protect the car and himself. Years later, he said that the car and gun were his brother's, which William Issa supported.
He had been unaware of the gun's presence when inadvertently driving the car the wrong way down the alley and that, to the extent of his knowledge, there had been no ammunition present. The entire incident, he had believed, had been expunged.
Issa later transferred to Kent State University, where he completed his studies. His brother William believes this period shaped Issa's conservatism, in contrast to the leftism that prevailed among much of the student body there. After graduating with a degree in business administration in 1976, he returned to active Army service as an officer.
He served as a tank platoon leader and a computer research and development specialist. During this time, his performance assessments were highly positive. In 1980, while he was stationed at Fort Ord near Monterey, California, one of his superiors, Wesley Clark, later a general and Democratic presidential candidate, wrote that "[t]his officer's performance far exceeded that of any other reserve officer who has worked in the battalion." Captain Issa, he said, had "unlimited potential" and should be promoted ahead of others.
Issa decided to return to civilian life instead. A week before he was discharged, he and his brother were arrested again on theft charges. Near the end of 1979, William Issa, who by then had served federal and state prison time for theft, had sold his brother's 1976 Mercedes-Benz sedan to a San Jose dealership for $16,000, giving the dealer an Ohio license with Issa's name on it. Issa had soon reported the car stolen and told the police he had left the title certificate in the trunk. Issa made conflicting statements to police about whether or not he had obtained a second license and also about his brother, whom he had recently seen at Christmas in Cleveland Heights. With the investigator suspicious that the brothers might have conspired to commit insurance fraud, they were indicted. Issa said he had no knowledge of his brother's intentions; William said Issa had given him power of attorney a few weeks beforehand and had authorized him to sell the car. Issa bought the Mercedes back from the dealership for $17,000 in February; in August, the case was dropped.
In 2011, Issa acknowledged that he had tried to cover his brother's crime, avoiding incriminating him. Both men say that William Issa planned and executed the scheme; William says Issa had "always kept the title stuff in his car". According to Issa, he remained close to his brother in spite of his brother's activities and had ridden, as a boy, with William in cars he knew must have been stolen, saying in 2011 that "I admired my brother even when he was doing wrong.... I was always the kid at his ankles."
After leaving the military, Issa and his second wife, Kathy Stanton, moved back to the Cleveland area, pooled their savings, sold their cars and borrowed $50,000 from his family 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 is now worth $451 million.
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 prevailed in the open primary by a margin of 22 percent to 20 percent for Issa. A San Francisco exit poll suggested that large numbers of Asian-Americans had crossed party lines to vote for Fong.
Two years after Issa's failed Senate bid, Congressman Ron Packard, a nine-term incumbent, announced his retirement. Issa capitalized on his name recognition from the 1998 Senate race, winning the 2000 Republican primary against State Senator Bill Morrow and the general election. During his 2002 run for re-election, the Democrats failed to field a candidate, and his closest competition was from Libertarian Karl Dietrich. A write-in candidate from that election, Mike Byron, went on to become the Democratic challenger in 2004. Issa currently serves on the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the House Judiciary Committee, and the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, of which he is the Ranking Member. Issa mounted an unsuccessful campaign to join the ranks of the House GOP leadership hierarchy. He finished third of the four candidates vying for the chairmanship of the House Republican Policy Committee, and was ultimately passed over in favor of Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan.
Issa came to national prominence when he contributed over $1.6 million to help fund a signature-gathering drive for the petition to recall 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 that his mission had been accomplished since Davis was recalled and he wanted to continue representing his district in Congress and work towards Middle East peace. When reporters raised the issue of his 1972 weapons conviction Issa responded by saying, "I don't think 30-year-old misdemeanors are fair play here." For the recall election, Issa endorsed Schwarzenegger. At one point in the campaign he suggested that people 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 taking over as Davis' successor.
As one of the few Lebanese-Americans in Congress, Issa has had a significant but sometimes controversial 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.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. Issa supported the use of military force in Iraq (2002) and Afghanistan. On 16 June 2006 he voted to reject setting timetables for withdrawal from Iraq. On 5 April 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 serves as a director of the American Task Force for Lebanon, a nonprofit organization working to advance Lebanon and its ties with the US.
In 2008, Issa defeated Democratic candidate Robert Hamilton, prevailing by a 20 point margin. In 2010, 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 New York Federal Reserve'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."
September 23rd, 2011