The Washington Post compared the annual financial disclosure reports filed by every member of Congress over the past decade to various public records and discovered that nearly 50 senators and House representatives directed millions of dollars in earmarks to projects that could either enhance the surroundings of the lawmakers' own property or help entities connected to their immediate families. Two of these lawmakers represent districts that include parts of Orange County.
A third Member of Congress' district used to bleed into South Orange County, and a fourth is the sister of our very own congressional trailblazer, according to "Capitol Assets" by the Post's Scott Higham, Kimberly Kindy and David S. Fallis. They report that some members of Congress send tax dollars to companies, colleges and community groups where their spouses, children and parents work as salaried employees, lobbyists or board members. Each lawmaker outed is given a chance to respond, and they or their staffers invariably claim the targeted earmarks and spending provisions were done to benefit the public, not their private interests.
Here are the local congressmen that made the Post list and their explanations.
Rep. Gary G. Miller (R-Brea)
42nd District: Though redistricting will change the boundaries in the next Congress, currently it straddles three counties to include: Anaheim, Brea, La Habra, Mission Viejo, Placentia, Rancho Santa Margarita and Yorba Linda in OC; Diamond Bar, La Habra Heights, Rowland Heights and Whittier in Los Angeles County; and Chino and Chino Hills in San Bernardino County.
Capitol Assets: Miller secured $1.28 million in earmarks in 2005 to help repave, re-landscape and install new drains along Grand Avenue in Diamond Bar, Calif. The project, previously reported by The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin of Ontario, upgraded an access road for a residential and retail development that he co-owned with a campaign donor. Miller sold the property months after securing the earmark. "At no time did Congressman Miller use his position to promote or enhance his personal business partnerships," Miller's spokeswoman said.
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Corona)
44th District: Formed originally from parts of Riverside and San Diego counties, the boundaries now include the cities of Riverside, Corona, Norco, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano and the unincorporated areas of Coto De Caza and Las Flores in OC and El Cerrito, Glen Avon, High Grove, Home Gardens, Mira Loma, Pedley, Rubidoux, Sunnyslope and Woodcrest in Riverside County.
Capitol Assets: From 2004 to 2009, Calvert helped secure $1.2 million for the Corona Transit Center. The project is near seven of Calvert's rental properties. The House Ethics Committee determined the project would not have a "direct and foreseeable effect" on Calvert's real estate. "The request did not constitute a conflict of interest," Calvert said.
On the next page are two others with past or current OC ties . . .
Rep. Linda T. Sánchez (D-Cerritos)
39th District: The slightly titled, U-shaped district in southeastern LA County includes South Gate, Lynwood, Paramount, Lakewood, Artesia, Hawaiian Gardens, Cerritos, Whittier and La Mirada.
Capitol Assets: In 2009, Sanchez secured $475,000 to improve seven traffic signals. One was about a mile from her Lakewood home. Two were within three miles. "The city of Lakewood requested these earmarks. They were the city of Lakewood's priorities because the signals were old and deteriorating," a Sanchez spokesman said. "The requests were made to go toward safety improvements that the city asked her to pursue."
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista)
49th District: When Issa took the seat over from retiring Rep. Ron Packard (R-Oceanside) in 2001, the district included San Clemente and other parts of South Orange County. Since redistricting confined it to southwest Riverside and northern San Diego counties, the coverage area has taken in Canyon Lake, Lake Elsinore, Menifee, Oceanside, Perris, Temecula, Vista, Wildomar and the communities of Fallbrook, Julian and Valley Center.
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Capitol Assets: Issa secured $815,000 in earmarks between 2007 and 2009 to widen a road less than a mile from a medical building in Vista, Calif., that Issa purchased for $16.6 million in 2008. Issa sold the property on Jan. 19 for $15 million. These earmarks were first reported in March by the Center for American Progress and in August by the New York Times. "Rep. Issa's request for the widening project was made on behalf of local leaders and predated his purchase of the medical center building," a spokesman said.
Keep in mind that these revelations come on the heels of media reports showing members of the House and Senate have used financial information gleaned from their public service to enrich themselves via trading stocks and bonds. Of course, that practice also probably does not constitute a conflict of interest, at least it doesn't under the Capitol Dome.