Issa video alleging lavish White House state dinners prompts ethics complaint

House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

A key House Republican’s video attacking President Obama for alleged extravagance at White House state dinners has drawn a complaint to the Office of Congressional Ethics filed by the nonprofit watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on Nov. 2 -- four days before the national elections -- posted on the panel’s website and on YouTube a video titled Spend Like He Says, Not Like He Does. It featured footage of a May 19 White House dinner for the president of Mexico at which singer Beyonce and celebrity chef Rich Bayless performed.

The event purportedly cost $969,793, the narrator says, or “more than the infamous four-day General Services Administration conference previously investigated by this committee.” Also mentioned is a November 2009 dinner for the prime minister of India reportedly costing $500,000.

The video went up a day after Issa sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a letter requesting all planning documents, receipts, contracts and communications related to state dinners since January 2009. Issa said the State Department has failed to respond to an April request for information related to overnight conferences its employees attended. “During these tough economic times, Americans are reining in their spending wherever possible,” Issa wrote. “The executive branch should be mindful of this. Reports of excessively lavish events, however, indicate the opposite.”

CREW called the video made with House resources “nothing more than a political ad attacking President Obama.” The message “does not consider why the dinners are expensive and provides no information regarding the costs of other administrations’ state dinners.” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a statement, “Just as Rep. Issa insists other federal government employees be held accountable for misusing scarce taxpayer resources, he too should suffer the consequences of misappropriating public money.”

The organization also argued that posting the video on the committee’s website was a violation of House rules against using such sites for political purposes.

In response, a spokeswoman for the Oversight Committee in an email to Government Executive said Issa’s “communications effort” falls squarely within House rules. “CREW is funded by anonymous liberal donors seeking to further a partisan political agenda against meaningful oversight of this administration,” she said. “Independent reviews of the organization have found that its complaints lack credibility. This frivolous complaint, like others CREW has made at the behest of their far-left benefactors against Chairman Issa, has no merit.”

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