New House Oversight chairman casts wide net in targeting Obama regulations

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has asked a wide spectrum of business interests to target Obama administration regulations this year, according to a full list of those contacted by Issa, which was obtained by The Hill.

Issa, the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to 150 companies, trade associations, think tanks and scholars in mid-December asking them to come up with a list of the most onerous existing and proposed regulations that are hurting job creation and economic growth.

The full list includes broad trade groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers and Financial Services Roundtable, as well as Fortune 500 companies such as Exxon Mobil, Bayer and the Ford Motor Co. 

Issa also wrote to groups with more specialized interests, such as the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals, the Fertilizer and Salt Institutes, the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association and the Color Pigments Manufacturers Association.

The vast assortment of business interests on the list demonstrates Issa’s determination to come up with as many regulations as possible to consider rolling back. 

Democrats and campaign finance watchdogs, according to opponents, have criticized the letter for a number of different reasons. Watchdogs have focused on the fundraising ties between the businesses and Issa, while Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member on the panel, has criticized the GOP for abandoning middle-class families in favor of moneyed special interests. 

“Inviting businesses to tell us what they want us to do as opposed to protecting the American people certainly gives me great concern,” Cummings said Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Hardball.” 

Most of the companies that received the letter have given millions of donations to Republican and Democratic candidates for office. 

Issa has received $80,000 in donations from the groups on the list over the past decade, but the bulk of those contributions come from just eight entities, according to an analysis by The Hill. The figure does not factor in individual donations from executives and employees of the companies and associations.

Exxon Mobil doled out $17,000; the Associated Builders & Contractors, $11,500; Caterpillar, $10,500; the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association, $9,000; the Precision Metalforming Association, $8,000; General Electric, $7,000; the American Mining Association, $6,500; and Edison Electric, $4,500. 

Only General Electric has a history of giving more to Democrats than Republicans in election cycles. The other six always have given predominantly to Republicans.

Some watchdogs say there is still cause for concern. 

“This sounds very much like a fishing expedition,” said Common Cause’s Bob Edgar. “I get nervous when I hear about these letters going out and the very same committee chairmen are going to be sending fundraisers to many of these same addresses. This is business as usual, not reform.

But Issa and supporters say they are simply trying to capture as accurate a picture as possible of government regulations and their impact on the economy. Business groups, including the Chamber, have warned of a “tsunami” of regulations from the administration that they argue is stifling growth.

A spokesman for Issa scoffed at suggestions that Issa could be influenced by donations from some of the groups he has requested information from. 

“It is laughable that Darrell Issa could be bought and paid for by anyone,” said Kurt Bardella, the Issa spokesman. 

Bardella accused Cummings and other critics of a double standard because President Obama didn’t receive the same criticism after he held a CEO summit in mid-December that included executives of Motorola, Cisco, American Express, Dow Chemical, Boeing, Duke Energy and Google. Instead of a scathing denunciation, Obama was lauded for reaching out and changing his tone, Bardella said.

“When President Obama had a CEO summit in December, I don’t recall anyone raising these concerns.  For all the talk about business-as-usual, it’s obvious hypocrisy is par for the course, as well.”

“What we’ve learned is that Elijah Cummings and the [Democratic National Committee] don’t believe it is productive to talk to job creators about job creation, unless you’re the president or the White House,” said Bardella. “Cummings says he wants Issa to get facts first and make judgments second, but when Issa tries to do that, Cummings rushes to judgment and attacks.

“All Cummings has done is proven that he is either a partisan obstructionist or just a hypocrite,” Bardella continued. “At least we now know where he stands and what we can expect from him moving forward.”

Issa is one of the wealthiest members of Congress and does not need to depend on a fat fundraising war chest to get reelected, so political contributions might not have the same power over him as other members. Still, he can use the extra funds to donate to GOP colleagues to help their reelection chances, building up political chits in the process.

Since becoming ranking Republican on Oversight, Issa has led aggressive charges against a handful of companies, including AIG, Merrill Lynch, General Motors and Countrywide. 

News of the letter reminded critics of the controversy surrounding the closed sessions then-Vice President Dick Cheney held with the energy industry. The controversy sparked a vigorous debate about whether it is appropriate for officials in government to ask special interests for a wish list of laws and regulations to repeal.

Dave Levinthal, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, said it’s extremely difficult to draw a direct connection between the corporate donations and which corporate interests Issa chose to consult through the letter, especially because there were so many of them, including dozens of smaller industries and associations that have never donated to Issa.

Yet those that did cut checks are probably feeling like they got their money’s worth, he said.

“Political action committees don’t donate money to members of Congress for their health or out of the goodness of their heart,” Levinthal said. “They’re doing it because they are hoping for something in return — hoping for favorable treatment, favorable legislation … the companies that received the letter probably feel that their investment in Rep. Issa was one that was well-made.”