Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 1, 2014

Group Retracts ‘Issa’ Fundraising Letter

Did a well-intentioned email seeking donations for a private veterans organization violate House rules?

The nonprofit Armed Forces Foundation sent out a letter purported to be from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and is taking responsibility for sending it without Issa’s consent.

“This was a draft letter intended for review and feedback from Congressman Issa that was inadvertently sent to our house file instead,” AFF spokesman Matthew Ballard in an email to CQ Roll Call. “There was no discussion, written or verbal, with the Congressman or any of this staff about this letter.”

The email, which bore the subject line, “It’s Sickening,” asks recipients to contribute to the AFF. The letter was sent on Thursday from what appeared to be the inbox of the powerful California Republican. It was obtained by CQ Roll Call via the chief of staff of a House lawmaker who received it.

“We apologize for any inconvenience or misunderstanding in this matter and have sent a retraction to our house file explaining the situation,” Ballard said. “It was an error on our part and we have apologized to Congressman Issa.”

“From the Desk of Congressman Darrell Issa, Chairman, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee,” says the header of the email, seemingly implying that Issa wrote the email from his Rayburn House Office Building desk.

The letter begins:

Dear Fellow American,

I’ve uncovered shocking information you’re going to be sickened to learn.

There’s a reason I chair the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. I’m not afraid to ask the tough questions and expose when government fails to do its job. It’s my responsibility to reveal the truth — no matter what it takes.

The letter goes on to point out the staggering rate at which veterans are committing suicide — roughly one veteran every 65 minutes — and the enormous veterans disability claims backlog.

The letter then urges email recipients to make a tax-deductible donation to the AFF, signing off misspelled as “Darrel Issa, Member of Congress, Captain, U.S. Army (RET).”

If Issa had approved the letter, it would have raised some issues.

Under House rules, members are not permitted to use official resources to solicit contributions for charitable organizations. That would include staff time, office telephones, email or official equipment like a computer — meaning if Issa actually did write that email from his desk, it would be a violation.

Furthermore, House rules prohibit members from soliciting private donations through messages that “carry expressions or symbols that might improperly indicate official sponsorship or endorsement” of the House of Representatives.

Indeed, the rules specifically bar the phrases “Congress of the United States,” “House of Representatives, or “Official Business” from being used.

While those specific phrases are avoided — perhaps indicating an intent to comply with the regulations — the rules note that private organizations are prohibited from using “facsimiles of congressional stationery to solicit support or contributions, thereby implying that the message is endorsed by the Congress or is related to the official business of a Member.”

“Even if the specific words mentioned in the rule are not used,” the House Manual notes, “authorizing a non-House individual or group to use letterhead, expressions, or symbols conveying the impression of an official communication from the Congress would violate the spirit of House rules, as well as other statutory provisions, as discussed below.”

The House Ethics Manual also notes that it is “permissible” for members to identify themselves as a member of Congress, congressman, congresswoman, representative, or by using their leadership title.

The House Ethics Committee did once provide a “general interpretation” of the rule, saying that “the use of congressional letterhead facsimiles by private organizations is a deliberate misrepresentation which reflects discredit upon the House of Representatives.”

Whether the letter violates House rules regarding letterhead facsimiles or implies an official connection to the House is an open question. The letter does seem to indicate that Issa has “uncovered shocking information” regarding veterans in his official duties as Oversight chairman, and the email does say it is from his desk.

The Ethics Manual states that, in a formal solicitation of funds, “no suggestion may be made that either donor will be assisting the individual in the performance of official duties or that they will receive favorable consideration from the individual in official matters.”

Earlier this summer, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing specifically on the veterans’ benefits backlog.

On Thursday night, Issa’s office issued a statement to CQ Roll Call saying that nobody in Issa’s office saw the letter before it was sent out.

“Neither Congressman Issa nor anyone on his staff saw or was aware of this email until it was brought to our attention by Roll Call,” said spokesman Frederick Hill. “The Armed Forces Foundation has apologized and told us that sending this email to a distribution list without Rep. Issa’s approval was an error and that they will take necessary steps to rectify the situation.”

The full text of the letter is printed below:

Dear Fellow American,

I’ve uncovered shocking information you’re going to be sickened to learn.

There’s a reason I chair the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. I’m not afraid to ask the tough questions and expose when government fails to do its job. It’s my responsibility to reveal the truth—no matter what it takes.

Well I’m about to reveal to you something appalling that few people in Washington are talking about…

The federal government is failing our veterans. These are the facts:

>> One veteran commits suicide every 65 minutes.

>> More active duty service members died by suicide than in combat last year.

>> There are nearly one million Veteran Administration Disability claims outstanding.

But with sequestration, federal overspending, and no political will to act, help likely will not come from Washington. That’s why I’m so proud to support the Armed Forces Foundation (AFF), a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization that is doing the work your government won’t!

Unfortunately, the number of service members needing assistance is growing far faster the AFF’s budget. Without an immediate infusion of cash, the AFF will have to begin turning away service members and families in need. That’s why I’m asking you to make an urgent, tax-deductible donation of $25, $50, $100 or more to the Armed Forces Foundation today.

There’s an epidemic of untreated war injuries from Iraq and Afghanistan. Very few people outside the military understand these invisible injuries exist, let alone know what it takes to overcome them. Since 2001, the AFF has provided more than $75 million in assistance to help those most in need, including support for the things that their military pay can’t cover like travel to visit wounded loved ones, home mortgage and car payments, and every day bills for families to be able to stay by their loved ones’ sides during treatment and recovery from wounds suffered during war.

The AFF relies on generous individuals to fund its efforts and 95 cents of every dollar donated goes directly back into the foundation’s programs. I can’t think of a worthier organization to be involved with, and that’s why I’m asking you to join me in supporting the AFF with a tax-deductible donation of $25, $50, $100 or more today.

Thank you in advance for your support.

Sincerely,

Darrel Issa
Member of Congress
Captain, U.S. Army (RET)

  • Defend The Constitution

    Since free markets reward us for the usefulness of our actions, they are incompatible with merit-based systems of subjective judgement.

    • Jesse4

      But the real world is full of examples of the free markets paying very useful actions very little, and extremely useless actions very much.
      There is such a rich mythology associated with free markets!

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