By Debbie Siegelbaum - 10/20/11 11:44 PM EDT
Davis planned to host a subcommittee forum on Drug Policy in Chicago. Davis and his staff had been planning the event — which occurred October 17 — since the summer, according to a statement from House Democrats on Wednesday.
In a letter sent Thursday to Committee on House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) and Ranking Member Robert Brady (D-Pa.), as well as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Issa defended his previous decision.
“As the Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — and as a former Ranking Member who led committee Republicans in the Minority — I fully agree with you that the rights of the Minority must be taken seriously and protected,” wrote Issa.
But, he added, the Democrats’ characterization of the travel request as “entirely appropriate” was “inconsistent with the facts and apparent rules violations that surrounded the event.
“My decision to deny this request last week was, in fact, a result of the committee minority’s failure to address my concerns that the Chicago forum was not official committee business and therefore it was inappropriate to authorize the use of official committee funds in support of the event,” Issa wrote. “The facts surrounding the forum that took place in Chicago validate these concerns and my refusal to authorize travel.”
The Oversight Committee minority portrayed the event as official committee business, but the facts suggest otherwise, according to Issa. At issue were whether public announcements regarding the forum — a joint endeavor between the House and private organizations — complied with House Ethics rules.
The location of the event, at the facilities of a private charitable organization, raised further ethics concerns for Issa.
The House seal on press releases soliciting donations for private organizations connected with the forum also led Issa to question whether the event could “be perceived as an official endorsement for a private organization,” according to the letter.
“I refuse to turn a blind-eye to expenditures of taxpayer funds that do not comply with relevant rules and laws whether within the committee or elsewhere in the Federal government,” he added.
Issa also took a pointed jab at Oversight Committee Ranking Member Cummings, who “seems to believe he can exploit the situation to his own advantage,” including raising public objections regarding Issa’s authorization of travel.
“I would ask you to remember that Ranking Member Cummings ascended to the position of Ranking Member of the Oversight Committee nearly a year ago through efforts to push out the panel’s former Chairman Edolphus Towns [D-N.Y.] and skip over his more senior colleague Carolyn Maloney [D-N.Y.] under the rationale that they were not tough or partisan enough to hinder the committee’s oversight agenda that I intended to pursue,” he wrote.
“Cummings has tried to use this forum as an opportunity to further his efforts to obstruct the oversight work of this committee,” Issa concluded.
Cummings' response to Issa's comments was swift.
“This whole issue is a petty distraction and a waste of time," Cummings wrote in an email to The Hill Thursday.
"Ranking Member Davis tried to work on a bipartisan basis since June to put together this forum on helping veterans overcome drug addiction, and none of the concerns in Chairman Issa’s letter was ever raised before he denied the request," he added. "This letter is a clear, after-the-fact attempt to justify a meritless decision, and I hope we can get back to work that really matters to the American people.”
Democrats on the Committee on House Administration also viewed Issa’s comments as a distraction.
“Chairman Issa’s response amounts to little more than a manufactured diversion from a bad decision,” wrote committee Democratic staff director Jamie Fleet in an email Thursday.
“His response did not address the specific questions asked by our committee, notably ones on his own similar use of official funds,” he added. “Most importantly, Chairman Issa failed to guarantee the core principle of Minority rights and full control of one-third of the Committee’s budget as promised in his testimony to the House Administration Committee.”
They defended Cummings from Issa’s written attack.
“Chairman Issa’s assertion that Ranking Member Cummings is attempting to obstruct [Oversight and Government Reform] business is simply without merit,” Fleet concluded.
This story was updated at 9:15 p.m.