UPDATE: Issa brunches with lobbyist whose son works on oversight team

by Matt Pearceinewsource

WASHINGTON — Tuesday morning at a fundraiser down the street from the Capitol, San Diego Congressman Darrell Issa brunched with a high-powered lobbyist whose clients could benefit from his oversight investigations — and whose son is a key member of Issa’s oversight team.

Issa, the top Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, left the breakfast at 9 a.m. with a small group of people and declined to answer questions. “Yes, goodbye,” he said to a reporter for inewsource after she identified herself.

Seconds later, lobbyist Barney Skladany Jr. left the fundraiser and also declined to comment.

Skladany — whose son Jonathan Skladany is Republican counsel on Issa’s oversight team — lobbies Congress on behalf of corporations for Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, whose political action committee co-hosted the fundraiser breakfast for Issa. In 2003, Corporate Board Member magazine named Skladany Jr. one of Washington’s “top lobbyists,” according to Skladany’s Akin Gump bio.

The fundraiser came on the heels of an inewsource investigation, published Monday, that revealed connections among some oversight staffers to industries that could benefit from Issa’s probe of federal regulations. Some staff members were former lobbyists, and several came to the committee from groups affiliated with Koch Industries’ billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch.

Issa’s office did not return a call Monday seeking comment on this fundraiser or on his staffer’s connections to Akin Gump.

Tuesday’s “Breakfast with Congressman Darrell Issa” was held at the Fluor Townhouse at 403 E. Capitol St. SE in Washington, which sits along a stretch of manicured townhouses with a clear view of the Capitol. The unmarked redbrick townhouse is owned by — and is a lobbying base for — the breakfast’s other co-host, Fluor Corporation, a publicly traded company that provides a host of engineering services for the energy industry and the government.

An invitation for the event was posted by the Sunlight Foundation’s “Party Time,” a WikiLeaks-style document dump for fundraiser invitations. The donation “requests” were listed as “$2,500/Host; $1,000/PAC; $500/Individual.”

The invitation highlighted Issa’s position as chairman of the oversight committee, which Issa has used to broadcast industry leaders’ frustrations with government regulations. Issa sent more than 150 letters to various corporations, industry associations and think tanks asking them to identify burdensome federal rules.

Environmental regulations have been a common complaining point among those who responded to Issa’s call— and the topic of some of Barney Skladany Jr.’s lobbying for Akin Gump clients such as Volkswagen and Dow Chemical. Skladany Jr. is not registered to lobby for Fluor.

In a recent financial filing, Fluor partially attributed a dip in business to “uncertainty” about new pollution laws.

So far this year, Fluor has held at least four fundraisers at its townhouse for other politicians, according to the Sunlight Foundation.

A lobbyist with Fluor Corporation, Nydia Bonnin, did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Fluor lists 20 offices in the US, but none of them are in Issa’s district, which is in San Diego and Riverside counties. Almost none of the company’s billions of dollars of federal government contracts awarded during 2000 to 2009 were targeted for projects in Issa’s district, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan, nonprofit government monitor OMB Watch.

Fluor frequently lobbies on “general issues related to congressional oversight of federal defense contractors” and received more than $60 million worth of military contracts in 2009, according to OMB Watch data.

Akin Gump spokeswoman Kathryn Holmes Johnson declined to answer a question about why Akin Gump co-hosted the fundraiser for Issa.

“I don’t have anything for you on this,” Holmes Johnson wrote in an e-mail.

Akin Gump’s PAC gave Issa at least $2,250 for the 2010 election cycle, its first reported donation to the congressman. Fluor Corporation, which occasionally uses Akin Gump to supplement its own lobbying, has given Issa’s campaigns more than $14,000 since 2000.

About a year after his son began working for the oversight committee, Barney Skladany Jr. gave Issa’s campaign $250 on March 18, 2010, also his first reported donation to Issa. Skladany Jr. gave freely in 2009 and 2010, doling out at least $32,500 to dozens of other candidates, almost exclusively to Republicans.

San Diego State University political science professor Brian Adams said there was nothing illegal about the professional relationship between Jonathan Skladany and his father as long as Akin Gump isn’t paying Skladany’s son while he works for the committee. Adams said he was troubled, however, by such a close connection between the worlds of private business and public service.

Dave Levinthal, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan nonprofit that analyzes campaign finance and lobbying data, called the father-son involvement with Issa unusual and “curious,” saying “one must wonder what gets discussed over the dinner table.”

He also said the relationship didn’t necessarily equate to wrongdoing, but he stressed the need for openness from Issa in light of his reluctance to comment.

“If there’s nothing to be concerned about here, then transparency shouldn’t be a problem,” he said.

inewsource Reporter Brooke Williams contributed to this report from inewsource’s Washington bureau.

inewsource, a nonprofit based at San Diego State University, produces in-depth reports and partners with media organizations.

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