Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chair of the House Oversight Committee and Government Reform Committee, is a tempting target for Democrats: He’s a combative conservative who denounced President Obama as corrupt, makes little secret of his plans to probe the Democratic administration, fueled the recall of former Gov. Gray Davis and has a  checkered business and personal past.

So for the creators of an attack committee that they call The Third Lantern, enough is enough.

Issa’s staff sees the effort as little more than a witch hunt and a smear campaign, although the group’s organizers say it is an attempt to inform the public.

“There have been and continue to be serious questions about law-breaking and ethics along every step of his business and political career. He has assumed a phenomenally powerful position that has a potential for serious abuse,” contends Dan Newman of SCN Strategies, a San Francisco-based political consulting group. 

SCN is putting together the national campaign to point out Issa’s problems, which have been reported in California since his unsuccessful 1998 run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Barbara Boxer and his abrupt departure from the field in the 2003 special election to replace Davis, a Democrat.

Recently, however, they captured widespread attention, partly because Issa moved into the national spotlight for his attacks on Obama and his ascension to the committee chairmanship and partly because the New Yorker ran a 7,800-word piece detailing Issa’s travails over the years.

Those include decades-old allegations of auto theft as a young man, carrying a weapon in his car and troubles with a business partner, among others. Issa, a car-alarm magnate, lives in Vista in north San Diego County. He has served in the House since 2001.

House rules allow the Oversight Committee wide-ranging investigative power, a platform that Democrats fear Issa will exploit. SCN’s goal is clear: They want to discredit Issa, who emerged as Obama’s chief accuser, as damage control for the 2012 elections.

To that end, SCN has put together The Third Lantern – a reference to Paul Revere’s ride – and formed it as a 501(c)4 under federal campaign rules, which means the donors of the committee need not be disclosed unless the organizers want to.

Right now, they don’t want to.

They’ve dubbed their efforts the “Issa Files.” Presumably the national campaign will be heavily bankrolled by labor.

“All we’re saying is that give the people information necessary so that the people can determine if Congressman Issa is morally and ethically fit for this important and powerful job,” Newman noted.

Along with Newman,  SCN’s personnel include Sean Clegg and Averell “Ace” Smith. The latter handled Jerry Brown’s attorney general campaign in 2006, and Smith and Clegg both played a key role in jump-starting labor money for Brown’s run for governor last year with a committee called Level the Playing Field.

All three are well known political strategists in California. Smith, a two-fisted opposition research operative, also worked for Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, among others.

The fact that The Third Lantern’s finances remain secret reflect the hypocrisy of the campaign, said Issa spokesman Kurt Bardella.

“The very people embarking on this smear campaign are refusing to disclose where the funding is coming from. It makes you wonder what else they have to hide,” he said.

“They are serving whatever interest is paying them,” he added. People “aren’t interested in this kind of character attack, this destructive politics as usual.” 

Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Roundup, the free daily newsletter about California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly. Stay up to date on the news you need to know.

Sign up below, then look for a confirmation email in your inbox.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: