Monday, February 28, 2011

GOP Congressman Offers Praise For US-UnCut Effort: CitiGroup’s Corporate Tax Dodging ‘Broke The Law’

Over the weekend, Americans all over the country staged demonstrations demanding that corporations pay their fair share in taxes. As ThinkProgress’ Zaid Jilani reported, many of America’s largest and most profitable corporations, like ExxonMobil, CitiGroup Bank of America, have managed to avoid paying any corporate taxes for most quarters in recent years. As corporations pay out record bonuses and compile billions in untaxed profits, corrupt politicians are trying to force regular Americans to give up benefits and social programs to pay down the deficit.
At the summit, ThinkProgress approached two conservative Republicans, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), to talk about corporate tax dodgers as well as the burgeoning “Main Street Movement“/US-UnCut efforts (US-UnCut is modeled after the UK group demanding British tax dodging corporations pay their fair share). Asked how he feels about large corporations skipping tax payments, Franks was at first incredulous, telling us that they do pay taxes but simply “pass it along” to consumers. Reminded that firms like Bank of America and CitiGroup have earned profits and avoided paying taxes, Franks finally responded sternly: “Well, then they broke the law”:
FANG: A lot of liberals are hosting what CBS News has called you know a left-wing alternative to the Tea Party this weekend, demonstrations all over the country. And one of their key complaints is that corporations aren’t paying their fair share. And they give examples like, in 2009, ExxonMobil, Bank of America, CitiGroup, GE, none of these corporations paid a dime in corporate income taxes. Do you think it’s fair for these corporations not to pay income taxes? [...] But they’re using offshore bank accounts as loopholes–
FRANKS: Those things can be addressed. But the bottom line is, corporate income taxes, they’re taxes on the people, ultimately.
FANG: But they’re not paying any of these taxes.
FRANKS: But what I’m saying is to raise corporate taxes or increase corporate taxes, won’t hurt the corporations, they’ll just pass it along. [...]
FANG: CitiGroup had one of its most profitable years ever in the last two years and they didn’t–
FRANKS: And you’re saying they didn’t pay any taxes on the profit?
FANG: Yes, in 2009. We don’t know about 2010.
FRANKS: Well, then they broke the law.
Watch it:
Similarly, we asked Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) if very profitable corporations like Bank of America, which paid nothing in corporate income taxes in 2009, were “paying their fair share.” Flake responded, “people’s definitions of fair share is different.” Flake laughed in disbelief, and finally responded, “I’d have to look at your figures.” (see video above)
Each corporation has seized upon various loopholes to avoid paying taxes. Google, for instance, uses a variety of foreign subsidiaries as pass through corporations. In the case of CitiGroup, the IRS offered the company an exception to long-standing tax rules in 2009 because CitiGroup was still owned by taxpayer because of TARP. Even after CitiGroup sold its taxpayer-owned shares, it continued dodging corporate taxes. A GAO study found that CitiGroup maintains 427 subsidiaries in tax havens like Aruba and the Bahamas.

Report: Wartime Contractors Waste, Steal Tens Of Billions -- Then Come Back For More

WASHINGTON -- The chairmen of the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting decried on Monday a federal system that has allowed contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan to commit fraud -- then get hired again and again.
"For the 200,000 people employed by contractors to provide support and capability in Iraq and Afghanistan, accountability is too often absent, diluted, delayed, or avoided," Republican co-chair Chris Shays, formerly a longtime congressman from Connecticut, said while calling to order a hearing of the commission Monday.
There are so many barriers to suspending or banning contractors with violations that "untrustworthy contractors can continue profiting from government work, responsible businesses may be denied opportunities, and costs to taxpayers can climb," Shays said in a statement co-authored with his Democratic co-chair, Michael Thibault, formerly the deputy director of the Defense Contract Audit Agency.
The commission last week issued a blistering interim report to Congress: "At What Risk? Correcting over-reliance on contractors in contingency operations," which concluded that "misspent dollars run into the tens of billions" out of the nearly $200 billion spent on contracts and grants since 2002 to support military, reconstruction and other U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And that could well be an understatement, the commission noted, because "it might not take full account of ill-conceived projects, poor planning and oversight by the U.S. government, and criminal behavior and blatant corruption by both government and contractor employees."
The report suggested that the government stop using contractors so routinely, start taking oversight more seriously and establish strong interagency standards.
It called for an end to contractors' current role in hiring other contractors, concluding that they tend not to erect the appropriate oversight firewalls.
And most controversially, the report said the extensive use of private security contractors -- which has surged under President Barack Obama -- raises use-of-force issues and creates a gap in legal accountability
So rather than let them run wild, the commission recommended that agencies relying on private security contractors be required to embed government personnel among them who would be "responsible for leadership, command and control, and oversight of all security contractors and operations."
(The commission also promised that its final report, due this summer, will further address the over-reliance on private contractors to provide "movement security" for government workers in war zones. That's a shot across the bow of the State Department.)
The commission's findings, however, are just the latest in a litany of official and journalistic reports about the enormous cost of waste, fraud and corruption in Iraq and, particularly, Afghanistan.
Just last month, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction warned that the entire $11.4 billion for constructing and maintaining nearly 900 Afghan National Security Forces facilities is at risk due to inadequate planning.
The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction said in 2009 that an estimated $3 billion to $5 billion in U.S.-funded infrastructure contracting had been wasted there.
McClatchy Newspapers have exposed example after example of waste and abuse in contracts for Afghan reconstruction.
A State Department cable obtained by WikiLeaks revealed late last year that Afghanistan's vice president had been caught carrying $52 million in cash in a Persian Gulf tax haven.
In his remarks at Monday's hearing, Scott Amey, general counsel for the nonprofit watchdog group Project on Government Oversight (POGO), testified that "contract award dollars have increased from approximately $200 billion in fiscal year 2000 to over $535 billion in fiscal year 2010." Meanwhile, however, "contract administration and oversight have decreased because the acquisition workforce is stretched thin," he said.
Since 2002, POGO has maintained a Federal Contract Misconduct Database, which served as the model for the government-created Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS), due to become publicly available starting in April.
Witnesses at Monday's hearing said, however, that the federal database doesn't adequately record contractors' past performance.
As it happens, the Obama administration recently caved to pressure from contractors and won't be making that past performance data available publicly.
But even internally, witnesses said, the state of the data is abysmal. Of the 1,485 past performance reports required from the Department of Defense, only 140 had been entered into the database. Of the 174 required from the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development, not a single one could actually be found, although USAID insisted 24 had been entered.
And Dan Gordon, President Obama's administrator for federal procurement policy, said three-quarters of the performance reports that were filed still lacked required documentation.
But judging from POGO's database, Amey testified:
Some of the largest service contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan have checkered histories of misconduct, including instances of shooting civilians, false claims against the government, violations of the Anti-Kickback Act, fraud, retaliation against workers' complaints, and environmental violations.
Amey also raised an all-too-familiar concern, though from another context:
The government's inability to hold all contractors accountable begs the question: Is the government so reliant on large contractors that bad actors are required to preserving legitimate competition and mission accomplishment? This might be the contracting version of "too big to fail."

Scott Walker's Budget To Include Major Cuts To Schools, Local Governments

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's explosive proposal to take nearly all collective bargaining rights away from most public workers represents just one piece of his vision for the state's future. Now he's ready to reveal the rest.
With the union rights proposal stuck in a legislative stalemate thanks to runaway Senate Democrats, Walker planned to forge ahead with the Tuesday release of his two-year spending plan that will include major cuts to schools and local governments to help close a projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall.
Tens of thousands of protesters have demonstrated for two weeks against Walker's collective bargaining proposal, which he calls necessary to free local governments from having to bargain with public employee unions as they deal with the cuts he'll outline Tuesday.
Schools last week started putting teachers on notice that their contracts may not be renewed for next year given the budget uncertainty. Walker has confirmed he will propose cutting education aid by about $900 million, or 9 percent statewide.
"All of this turmoil, all of this chaos, are examples that Walker's proposals are too extreme," said Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. She said more than 2,000 teachers had received nonrenewal notices as of Monday.
Labor leaders and Democratic lawmakers say Walker's proposal is intended to undermine unions and weaken a key Democratic voter base. The state's largest public employee union filed a complaint Monday alleging Walker has engaged in unfair labor practices by refusing to negotiate.
The Wisconsin State Employees Union complaint asked the state labor relations board to extend its contract and require Walker's administration to engage in collective bargaining.
Walker insists Wisconsin is broke and has nothing to offer. He spent another day touring the state Monday, renewing his threat of deeper cuts and layoffs if his proposal isn't passed by Tuesday. If the state misses that deadline, it won't be able to save $165 million through debt refinancing, which was a key part of his bill, Walker said.
Walker has warned he will start issuing layoff notices to state workers as soon as this week if the bill isn't passed, but he hasn't said who would be targeted.
School leaders are bracing for more bad news.
The governor is expected Tuesday to announce a new revenue limit that would require a $500 per-pupil reduction in property tax authority. The limits, in place since 1993, have gradually grown to reflect increasing education costs. That part of Walker's proposal alone would reduce the money available to the state's 424 districts by 7 percent, or nearly $600 million, based on a study done by University of Wisconsin-Madison economics professor Andrew Reschovsky.
"When you make unprecedented and historic cuts like these to schools, it means teachers are laid off, class sizes are larger, course offerings are reduced, extracurricular activities are cut, and whole parts of what we value in our schools are gone," state superintendent Tony Evers said in a statement.
In Janesville, a district with about 10,000 students, the school expects to get about a $5 million cut in aid, said David Parr, president of the local teachers union.
The district already is considering laying off up to 60 of its teachers to deal with a nearly $10 million budget deficit this year, Parr said. The teachers also have been asked to re-open contracts that are in effect until mid-2013, he said.
"If we don't reopen the contract, that means they would have to cut teachers," Parr said. "That's the bottom line. There aren't a lot of options left."
An analysis by the Wisconsin Association of School Boards determined the changes stripping workers' collective bargaining rights wouldn't take effect until an existing agreement expires or is extended, modified or renewed.
Teachers in Racine are terrified to reopen their contracts, Parr said.
"The whole district is walking on eggshells," Parr said. "Teachers are upset, aides are upset, the administration is upset, school board members are upset."
A large state aid cut also could force Milwaukee Public Schools, the state's largest district, to lay off teachers. Their four-year contract runs until 2013. Reschovsky's analysis says the district stands to lose $60 million under Walker's revenue limit reduction alone.
A spokesman for the district declined to comment.
Wisconsin's average teacher salary of about $48,000 ranks in the top half of states nationally, though it remains significantly behind the $60,000 average salaries in the top-paying states of California and Connecticut, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. Wisconsin students also rank in the top half nationally on standardized tests, scoring a full percentage point better on the ACT college entrance exam.
Walker's stalled collective bargaining proposal would require state workers to contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries toward pensions and double their health insurance contribution beginning April 1. Those changes would be expanded to nearly all other public workers, except those operating under existing union contracts, beginning July 1.
The higher benefit contribution would equate to an 8 percent pay decrease for the average worker. The state would save $30 million this fiscal year and $300 million over the next two years.
Walker said not realizing those savings would mean laying off 1,500 workers between now and July and 12,000 state and local employees over the next two years.
The statewide teachers union and state workers unions, in an attempt to compromise with Walker, have said they will agree to the benefit concessions as long as they retain collective bargaining rights. The bill takes away collective bargaining except over wage increases that don't go above the rate of inflation.
The 14 Senate Democrats who fled the state to block a vote on Walker's measure say his unwillingness to deal motivates them to stay away. The bill passed the Assembly on Friday following a three-day filibuster.
"There's a compromise here, I just really think there is," Democratic Sen. Jim Holperin said Monday. "We continue to seek it."
Associated Press writers Dave Lieb in Madison and Dinesh Ramde in Chicago contributed to this report.

Gov. Daniels Says Governments Should Slash Spending ‘Even If They End Up Seriously Costing A Lot Of Jobs’

When asked earlier this month about the job loss that would occur if the continuing resolution passed by House Republicans were actually implemented, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) replied “so be it.” “We’re broke. It’s time for us to get serious about how we’re spending the nation’s money,” he said.
And Boehner is evidently not the only one who feels that budget cuts should be imposed with complete disregard for their effect on employment. In an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep today, Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN) was asked if budget cuts should still go forward, even if they would result in widespread job loss, and replied “yes”:
INSKEEP: I want to ask something that a lot of people are confronting right now, as they deal with the federal deficit as well as state and local deficits that need to be closed. Are budget cuts — government budget cuts — worth it, even if they end up seriously costing a lot of jobs right now?
DANIELS: The answer is yes.
Last week, economists at Goldman Sachs estimated that the House Republicans’ continuing resolution would cause GDP to drop by 1.5 to 2 percent, which CAP economist Adam Hersh explained would translate into a one percentage point jump in the unemployment rate. Before that, the Economic Policy Institute found that the Republican plan would cause a loss of nearly one million jobs.
As if we needed more evidence of the effect GOP spending policy could have on employment, Moody’s Analytics predicted today that the House Republican plan wouldcause the loss of 700,000 jobs:
A Republican plan to sharply cut federal spending this year would destroy 700,000 jobs through 2012, according to an independent economic analysis set for release Monday…[Moody's Chief Economist Mark] Zandi, an architect of the 2009 stimulus package who has advised both political parties, predicts that the GOP package would reduce economic growth by 0.5 percentage points this year, and by 0.2 percentage points in 2012, resulting in 700,000 fewer jobs by the end of next year.
Republicans rode into the House majority chanting “where are the jobs?” but multiple independent analyses have now found that the vision they have for the federal budget would make unemployment substantially worse.

Laid Off And Left Out In Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis. -- Kathy Truesdel has no love for Scott Walker.
"He kiboshed the high-speed rail. It could have put me to work," she said. "That's my biggest gripe."
Walker, the new Republican governor of Wisconsin,nixed the Milwaukee-to-Madison project started under his predecessor, Jim Doyle (D), which had $810 million behind it from the 2009 stimulus bill. Walker cited the costs of continuing the project once the federal funds ran out, even though the project's proponents said it would have supported 5,500 construction jobs in Wisconsin for the next three years.
Truesdel, a laid-off forklift driver, thought some of that employment might have come her way. She told HuffPost she's been jobless for two years after working steadily for the previous 20.
"Nobody seems to want to hire me," said Truesdel, 41. "I've never been in this position my whole life."
It's not something she wanted to protest about. She said she wasn't interested in joining the anti-Walker demonstrations raging at the state capitol building up the street, where tens of thousands of union workers have swarmed to protest Walker's proposal to strip collective bargaining rights from most government employees.
Too much of a crowd for Truesdel. On Wednesday night, she sat on a barstool three blocks away at a dark dive called Mackesey's Irish Pub, wearing a black hoodie. No noisy protesters here, and not even any students at the moment, either. Just the Wisconsin-Michigan basketball game on TV and burgers for $4. Truesdel and another regular, Mary Baldassare, recognized this reporter as an out-of-towner. Baldassare immediately wanted to know how their visitor liked Madison. "I like to be friendly with people when I see they're new," she said.
Baldassare, 59, said she's also wary of the big crowds, though she supports the protesters and unions in general. "It's the only way small people can have their voices heard," she said. "In other regular jobs, if you complain, they get rid of you."
Baldassare said she works one day a week cooking at a sorority house but has been without steady employment since 2008. She met Truesdel here about a year ago.
"It's nice to go out once and a while and talk to people, commiserate," she said. Despite her degree in culinary management, she's only been able to find odd jobs cooking or cutting hair. She used to run a motel in Florida, and worked alternately as a hairdresser or a cook her whole adult life. Before her husband died in 1999, she said, they used to go out to dinner once or twice a week. She said not having the money to go out more often "makes me feel kind of worthless."
The average U.S. unemployment spell now lasts nearly 37 weeks. The longer a person is out of work, the less likely they are to find a job, regardless of background. While the overall unemployment rate for people with a college degree is 4.2 percent, compared with 14.2 percent for people who don't have a high school diploma, high school dropouts and college grads are equally represented among the million-plus who've been out of work for at least 99 weeks, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Truesdel said her unemployment benefits ran out a few weeks ago. She's still filing claims, she said, so the government knows that the unemployment crisis isn't over. "Maybe they'll address it more," she said. "I don't hear about it so much in the news."
Baldassare said she's got a few weeks of benefits left thanks to part-time work that interrupted her jobless spell. She said she's applied for every job she can find, including cooking and bartending gigs. It seems to her that businesses in this town would rather hire college kids for the kind of work she can do. The experience of constantly applying for jobs and never even getting a response from employers makes her feel small.
"I feel like I'm a little piece of lint on the earth. A little dust bunny," she said. "I have so much to give."

The Least Diverse States in America

Tossing Out the Tossed Salad

With a biracial president in the White House, as well as gender and ethnic diversity on the Supreme Court, it’s clear that diversity and multiculturalism are important values for Americans.

REPORT: Ending Special Interest Tax Dodging Would Balance Wisconsin’s Budget And End The War On Unions

Over the weekend, Main Street America held the largest rallies yet to take place against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) radical proposal to gut his state’s public employee union collective bargaining rights. Walker claims that his assault on the state’s labor unions is designed to help close his state’s budget deficit and save taxpayers money.
Yet the truth is that the relatively minor budget woes that Wisconsin faces aren’t aresult of the middle class pay and benefits afforded to hard-working teachers, municipal employees, and other Main Street Americans. Rather, declining tax revenues from a recession caused by Wall Street and corporate tax cuts Walker immediately rammed through the legislature are much more responsible for the relatively minor shortfalls the state is facing.
Walker claims that that the state is facing a $137 million budget deficit and says that the state’s hard-working public employees should sacrifice their pay and benefits and have their collective bargaining rights crippled in order to close this budget gap. Additionally, Walker has included language in his latest budget proposal that wouldrestructure the state’s debt, which would essentially take care of any economic problems in the short-term. Despite the fact that they aren’t responsible for a budget deficit, Wisconsin’s public employee unions have “announced they would accept paying half the cost of pensions and 12.6 percent of the cost of health insurance — as long as they were allowed to keep their collective bargaining rights” — a deal Walker has flatly rejected.
Yet if Walker really feels like the state is facing unacceptable budget problems and that it needs to be able to recoup revenue, he doesn’t have to attack the pay, benefits, or rights of his public employees at all. All he has to do is look at his state’s tax code and take action to close a handful of special interest tax loopholes and tax breaks so that the state’s richest pay their fair share so that the middle class that has already sacrificed so much doesn’t continue to have to bear all the burdens of the recession by itself. ThinkProgress has assembled a far from comprehensive list of just some of these special interest tax breaks and loopholes that could help balance the budget and end any need for a war on unions:
– Close The Internet Sales Tax Loophole: Currently, online retailers all over the country make skillfull use of the tax code to avoid paying sales taxes. Big retailers like set up subsidiary corporations in states and then argue that the subsidiary corporation doesn’t obligate the parent company to collect sales taxes in the state. A University of Tennessee study estimates that “in 2011 alone, Wisconsin will lose an estimated $127 million in uncollected sales tax on purchases made online” — only $10 million short of what Walker projects his state’s deficit to be. While the best way to close the internet sales tax loophole is for federal action, some states like New York have enacted what they refer to as the “Amazon law,” which would decree that any internet sales company would be liable for the state’s tax laws if it has “independent ‘affiliate’ websites in the state promoting sales on its behalf.” After New York enacted its law to capture previously lost revenues in 2008, Amazon responded by unsuccessfully suing the state. Wisconsin could follow New York’s lead.
Close Special Interest Property Tax Loopholes: Much of the funding necessary to support government services in Wisconsin comes from property taxes, collected by municipalities, with these taxes currently generating “far more revenue than any other state or local tax.” Considering that much of the Wisconsin state budget is consumed by aid to municipalities, closing these loopholes would relieve city budgets and therefore help reduce statewide expenditures. The current exemptions on potential property taxes amount to $700 million a year. Many of these exemptions were won by interest groups with clout in the state legislature. For example, nonprofit community hospitals — which make up 89% of hospital revenue in the state — currently have an exemption, allowing them to forgo $128 million in taxes in 2008. Certain retirement homes also have an exemption that costs the state $15 million a year. The 2009-2011 state budget included a special exemption “for student housing owned by a nonprofit organization that houses up to 300 students, with at least 90% of its residents enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison” — which benefitted a single dorm: the “Pres House on the UW-Madison campus, which would pay about $250,000 in taxeswithout it.” While some of the state’s current exemptions make sense, others simply benefit special interest groups and should be closely examined.
Crack Down On Corporate Income Tax Dodgers: The Institute for Wisconsin’s Future (IWF) notes that the state is “losing over one billion dollars annually to the ‘tax gap,’ the difference between what is legally owed by taxpayers and what is actually paid.” It notes that “business income is only 8% of Wisconsin income, but responsible for 57% of the underreporting tax gap,” mostly due to underreporting. This gap accounts for $113 million in revenue. Some companies dodge their taxes by setting up subsidiaries in neighboring states with corporate income tax havens, like Nevada and Delaware. IWF suggests that simplying the tax code and expanding the network of state auditors could help close the tax gap and stop businesses from underreporting their income to avoid taxes.
And it’s worth noting that the tax cuts Walker rammed through during his first month in office “will reduce general fund tax collections by $55.2 million in 2011-12 and $62.0 million in 2012-13.” It is simply irresponsible for Walker and his allies to continue to blame middle class Wisconsinites for his state’s modest budget woes while ignoring the tax dodging by the state’s special interests who continue to fail to pay their fair share.

Darrell Issa's Team Includes Industry Insiders

WASHINGTON -- First as ranking minority member and now as chairman of one of the most powerful committees in Congress, San Diego Republican Darrell Issa has built a team that includes staff members with close connections to industries that could benefit from his investigations.
Issa took control of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last month, and asked companies, nonprofits and industry associations for guidance on federal regulations. The committee, which includes 23 Republicans and 17 Democrats, has broad powers to investigate government and industry, and to issue subpoenas.
Issa's staff already has released findings sympathetic to industries bent on softening or eliminating certain government regulations. A preliminary report this month, for example, focused largely on Environmental Protection Agency standards and relied heavily on input from industry associations. Other standards the committee is targeting include new regulations on workplace safety and the financial services industry.
And some on Issa's staff know this territory from the inside.
Several have ties to billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, who have made much of their fortune in oil and chemical businesses and have established a reputation as staunch small-government conservatives. Their influence through campaign contributions, lobbying and nonprofit groups--such as Americans for Prosperity, an activist organization with connections to the Tea Party movement--has become more pronounced since the shift in power in the House last November.
A Republican staff counsel for the oversight committee is the son of a lobbyist pushing for regulatory changes on behalf of big corporations. At least four other staffers once lobbied Congress for companies and industry associations. Another counsel worked for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which Issa recently asked for input on government regulations.
Gary Bass, a regulatory expert who has monitored government transparency and spending for nearly three decades as founder of the nonprofit, OMB Watch, said it's business-as-usual to see Congressional committees staffed with people close to entities they monitor -- no matter which political party is in charge.
But Bass said that Issa has gone a step further by actively soliciting input from the business community, making the connection of his staff to those same business all the more troubling.
"What you're going to see are regulations that are tilted in favor of those interests," he said.
Frederick Hill, spokesman for Issa and the oversight committee, declined to answer questions about the staff's connections to lobbyists, business interests, the Koch companies, foundation or nonprofits.
"I only have a short comment for you on this subject," Hill wrote in an e-mail. "The Committee makes all hiring decisions based on the ability of individuals to help the committee do its job."
Issa declined to be interviewed for this article, as did representatives of Koch Industries, the conglomerate that the Koch brothers control.
Dave Levinthal, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan nonprofit that analyzes campaign finance and lobbying data, said that Issa's oversight committee needs to operate openly and to publicly disclose any potential conflicts.

"If there is even a whiff of conflict of interest, it's important for them to be transparent and upfront about any interests that the committee or its staffers might have," he said.
In mid-January, the Watchdog Institute, an independent nonprofit reporting center based at San Diego State University, obtained a list from majority spokesman Hill of 62 Republican committee employees in order to examine their work experience in light of Issa's ambitious investigative agenda.
The Institute also sought a list of Democratic staffers and contacted minority spokeswoman Jenny Rosenberg 11 times to obtain it. She only released the name of Staff Director David Rapallo.
The Committee on House Administration, which oversees the day-to-day operations of the House, released a list on Feb. 22 of all committee staff as of January, including more than 50 with the minority.
The Institute applied the same research standards to majority and minority staff members. Because the Democrats, however, haven't outlined an agenda akin to Issa's - aside from Friday's announcement to examine possible fraud in the mortgage industry - there wasn't a similar benchmark for the Institute to use to assess the backgrounds and corporate connections of the minority's staff.
Many among the minority are longtime Hill staffers. Some worked for government agencies, nonprofits or law firms. Others are former lobbyists with connections to labor, energy and the petroleum and chemical industries.
On the Republican side, more than three-quarters of the staffers have been hired since Issa took over as ranking member of the committee at the beginning of 2009. In most cases, the Institute did not identify connections to companies or industries with a stake in oversight investigations.
Among those that do have connections, some have ties to the Kochs.
One person completed a Koch Associate Program with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundationand coordinated a regulatory studies program at the Mercatus Center. The center, a think tank heavily funded by Koch and co-founded by Richard Fink, the executive vice president of Koch Industries, has a long history of advocating against government regulations.
Another staffer, Daniel Epstein, was at the Koch foundation and worked "together with Koch Industries Inc.'s assistant general counsel" before joining the committee as Republican counsel, according to a statement attributed to him in The Hill ((/)), a trade publication that covers Congress. Epstein did not respond to interview requests.
At least three more oversight staffers also have ties to the Mercatus Center, which counts twoKoch Industries executives on its board of directors, including Charles Koch, the chairman and chief executive of Koch Industries.
Catherine Behan, spokeswoman for Mercatus, defended its independence, saying that its research is not guided or influenced by any outside business interests.
"We don't do directed research," she said. "No one comes to us and says 'we want to do a study on X.'"
In the past three years, Koch companies reported spending about $40.5 million lobbying on behalf of energy and manufacturing interests. The companies lobbied significantly on Environmental Protection Agency regulations--which oversight committee staffers scrutinized in a recent report and were the focus of many industry responses to Issa's solicitations for guidance on regulations.
Koch Industries does not appear among the more than 150 letters Issa sent to businesses soliciting their input about onerous government regulations. But Koch Industries has lobbied against some of the same laws that many businesses said they objected to when they responded to Issa's solicitation.
A lobbyist named Barney Skladany Jr. -- whose son, Jonathan Skladany, is Republican counsel on Issa's oversight team -- also lobbied Congress on environmental regulations that industries identified as onerous in their responses to Issa's request. Among Skladany Jr.'s clients: Dow Chemical, Mortgage Insurance Companies of America and Volkswagen. Jonathan Skladany declined to comment, and his father did not respond to an interview request.
Because of the oversight staff's connections to Koch Industries, the Watchdog Institute also examined Koch's campaign contributions to members of the oversight committee. Koch Industries has given more than $130,000 to sitting committee members since 2000, mostly to Republicans.

Current Republican committee members received at least $72,750 from Koch Industries in the last election. Most are freshman, who received at least $42,750.
Koch Industries began contributing to Issa's campaigns in 2008 and has given him at least $12,500.
Levinthal, of the Center for Responsive Politics, said the Koch brothers "have a portfolio filled with ways to influence the government."
"The committee at the end of the day may be more reflective of the interests that the company and its executives espouse," he said.
The oversight committee has made headlines consistently since Issa took charge, holding several hearings and issuing its first subpoena almost two weeks ago. (2-16-11) It also released responses from industries on its website.
In a Feb. 9 report, oversight staff explained that the committee is "uniquely positioned" to examine "barriers that stand in the way of job growth and economic recovery," saying the point is to "get Americans back to work."
The report recommended "additional scrutiny" of certain regulations, including EPA standards. The industry associations that provided the staff with input included at least two that count Koch companies as members.
Last year, as ranking minority member of the oversight committee, Issa was one of many committee members to cosponsor legislation -- lobbied on by Koch Industries -- opposing a decision from the EPA that would greatly expand the agency's authority to regulate air pollution.
Other interests also intersect on the oversight committee.
For example, an oversight committee counsel, Kristina Moore worked in the same office as Shane Karr, an auto alliance executive whom oversight staff interviewed for its report.
Moore did not respond to an interview request. A spokesman for the auto alliance said Karr declined to be interviewed.
In February 2009, after Issa became the ranking Republican, he approved a trip to a Mercatus-funded retreat for his committee staff director, Larry Brady.
On his disclosure form, Brady, who did not respond to an interview request, cited the purpose of the trip: "Provide in-depth briefings on issues of relevance to oversight investigations."
That same month, the oversight committee brought on two alumni of the Mercatus Center as staffers -- including Moore, who returned to the committee after a brief stint at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. The committee later hired at least two more Mercatus alumni.
Based at George Mason University in Virginia, Mercatus' activities overlap with the commercial and ideological interests of Charles Koch.
Mercatus received at least $7.6 million from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation between 2006 and 2008, according to the most recent tax filings available online. The foundation did not return phone calls.
Mercatus' research policy states that "Mercatus financial supporters have absolutely no influence or control" over its work, and Behan said the Koch executives on the board have no influence either.
Still, Issa asked the Mercatus Center for regulatory advice in his recent solicitation blitz. In response, Mercatus outlined ways government regulations can hurt the economy.
Between Feb. 9 and Feb. 17, four Mercatus scholars testified at oversight committee and subcommittee hearings, including Veronique de Rugy, who was scheduled to speak at an exclusive Koch Industries conference in Aspen in June.
Koch Industries hosted another exclusive conference last month in Palm Springs--a semi annual event to discuss "strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it." 
Two Mercatus scholars, as well as FOX News' Glenn Beck and the Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore, were on the agenda of speakers at the Aspen conference.
Tyler Grimm, a new oversight committee staffer, contributed to Beck's book "Arguing With Idiots," and was a research assistant for Moore, an economic columnist.
Grimm did not respond to interview requests. Beck's spokesman said he was not available for an interview.
Moore said Grimm was "a good economist" and a good fit for the oversight committee's staff. Moore also said he thought highly of Mercatus' work.
"I think they've got some of the best economists in the country and that they're fair and balanced," he said.