Spring forward

By Dave Maass

How our local members of Congress spent the first quarter

We live in an age of citizen surveillance. That is to say, from way over here at the southwestern-most edge of the country, we can use the internet like a long-range microscope to inspect what our local representatives are doing in Washington, D.C. Following on our summary at the beginning of the 112th Congress, here's CityBeat's first-quarter report on our local delegation.

Brian Bilbray, Republican, District 50

Funds raised in Q1: $111,581

Bills introduced: Three, including one he was able to turn into big campaign money. Bilbray introduced HR 734, his part to play in the great Republican plan to dismantle last year's healthcare-reform package: repeal of the medical-device tax. On March 17, Bilbray threw a fundraiser for the biotech industry that resulted in $16,000 in donations from corporations that would stand to benefit directly, including Abbott Laboratories, Medtronic, Boston Scientific and Edwards Life Sciences.

Bilbray also sponsored HR 1036, the Job Creation and Innovation Investment Act of 2011, which is a misleading title since job creation and investment is only one possible outcome. The bill would create a tax holiday from the 35-percent tax on foreign money that companies want to bring back into the U.S., provided they invest it in research or development. Companies can simply pay a 5.25-percent tax if they want to spend it at their own discretion.

The flipside, as Ken Rijock, a financial-crime specialist writes for World-check.com: “Since the law fails to provide policies and procedures to ensure that the source of such profits were legally and properly acquired, professional money launderers or terrorist financiers could utilize the law to move criminal profits into the United States, for investment, or the financing of terrorist activities.”

Beyond that, Bilbray has not yet fixed his bad habit of spewing misinformation. As reported on CityBeat's news blog, during the debate surrounding funding for Planned Parenthood, Bilbray told constituents that federal family-planning money went to abortion services. That was a big fat false, though he retracted the claim when brought to his attention.

Susan Davis, Democrat, District 53

Funds raised in Q1: $39,464

Bills introduced: Five, including two on teacher recruitment, two to help veterans with finances and one throwaway resolution recognizing Dr. Seuss' March 2 birthday as “Read Across America Day.”

Davis tends to keep a low profile, but the relative progressive grew increasingly louder as Republicans sought to cut National Public Radio and Planned Parenthood's funding for family planning. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, Davis remained active in the debate over Don't Ask Don't Tell and, according to McClatchy news service, fought to maintain federal spending on commissary programs.

As the San Diego Reader first reported, Davis took a $6,400 trip to Tokyo just before the recent earthquake, which was paid for by Japan Center for international Exchange. She also toured the Arlington National Cemetery (following an Army Inspector General report on poor administration), the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (following the Japan earthquake) and the new Feeding America San Diego warehouse (just because it opened). Davis was honored by the Humane Society and donated $1,000 to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' campaign.

Bob Filner, Democrat, District 51

Funds raised in Q1: $82,357

Bills introduced: 55. Even though Filner told us last year that he expected gridlock this session with the new Republican majority in the House, that hasn't stopped the liberal from introducing more bills than his four San Diego County colleagues combined. Many of them are carry-overs from previous sessions, including a series of “private bills” that would help several foreign citizens obtain VISAs and secure compensation for a few guys who bought Immigration and Customs Enforcement auction vehicles, only to later get busted for hidden weed that ICE missed. The bulk of his bills, as one would expect from the ranking Democrat on the Veterans' Affairs committee, address the needs of combat vets' healthcare.

Filner seems to be moving further to the left, at one point telling Rep. Dennis Kucinich during a floor speech on the cost of the war in Afghanistan, “I've never seen you so conservative.” Filner has been toeing the line between politics and public service by honoring labor groups and leaders for their 2010 campaign work and political fundraising for Gov. Jerry Brown with special recognitions placed in the Congressional record.

Filner has been telling everyone, from Labor Council CEO Lorena Gonzalez to an audience for a documentary on the Freedom Riders (Filner was among civil-rights activists arrested in 1961), that he plans to run for mayor of San Diego. He hasn't officially announced, but his campaign consultants have registered several domains, including BobFilnerforMayor.com.

Duncan D. Hunter, Republican, District 52

Funds raised in Q1: $114,035

Bills introduced: Nine, including new bills that would create 350 more miles of fence along the southern border and give business owners 90 days to remedy access complaints under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Back in January, Hunter began butting heads with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, accusing him in a Politico article of “trying to destroy the Marine Corps” because Gates nixed funding for a certain amphibious vehicle. In February, Hunter went after Gates again during an Armed Services Committee hearing, demanding to know how much it would cost to “erase all risk, literally” and get to “zero threat.” An irritated Gates told Hunter that “nobody lives in that world,” and, later, a Time blogger mocked Hunter for his “zany” approach. Hunter spoke out publicly and in letters to the administration on his belief that NATO, not the U.S., should lead the military actions in Libya.

This quarter, Hunter held a line-out-the-door job fair at Cuyamaca College—complete with booths from his drone-building defense-industry campaign donors. He also called the police on MoveOn.org protesters who showed up at his office, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Darrell Issa, Republican, District 49

Funds raised in Q1: $188,916

Bills introduced: 16, including legislation to require the Secretary of the Treasury to disclose details of any payment made in a court judgment, as well as a slew of intellectual-property-related bills, including one that bans U.S. courts from recognizing the trademarks of brands that were confiscated by the Cuban government.
But Issa's main role, as chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and government Reform, is to lead investigations of federal agencies. He's held committee hearings on the foreclosure crisis, presidential libraries, the postal workforce and environmental regulations. In his sights right now—the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives over “Operation Gunrunner,” which may have resulted in thousands of U.S. firearms entering Mexico.

Transparency organizations are looking to Issa to save a number of open-government websites that are scheduled to go dark under current budget proposals.

Issa's new, prominent role has drawn considerable opposition, with multiple groups—like the Courage Campaign's Issa Watch and Third lantern's Issa Files—devoted to keeping him in check, if not bringing him down. The liberal blog Think Progress recently published a fairly damning and well-researched indictment of Issa's earmarks for highway improvements that may have increased the value of one of his properties. So far, though, the only scandal that has left a noticeable impact on his office was the firing of Kurt Bardella after it was discovered the press secretary had leaked reporters' emails and spoken too candidly with a writer for The New Yorker.

Write to davem@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.