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Liberal group files ethics complaint against Darrell Issa

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Updated: 5:51 p.m. ET

A liberal advocacy organization filed an ethics complaint on Tuesday against Rep. Darrell Issa, claiming the California Republican and chair of the House Oversight Committee has "repeatedly -- and impermissibly -- used his public position to promote his private financial interests."

In a letter to the Office of Congressional Ethics - an independent entity charged with reviewing allegations of misconduct against Congress members and their staffs - the group, American Family Voices, alleged that Issa used his position of authority on the Oversight Committee to improperly intervene in dealings with Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and DEI Holdings, all of which Issa is associated with in some way.

"Alarms have been going off for some time about Darrell Issa's apparent conflicts of interests, and the OCE should immediately review whether the Congressman has inappropriately exploited his position of power for personal gain," said AFV president Mike Lux in a statement attached to the complaint.

American Family Voices is a political advocacy group that describes itself as "an umbrella group that helps fund a broad network of organizations - including civil rights, environmental, women's rights, consumer advocacy and health care organizations, and multi-issue think tanks - and build their infrastructure, both in the field and in communications."

According to the complaint, obtained by CBS News, Issa pressured the Securities and Exchange Commission "into inaction" after the commission sued Goldman Sachs for allegedly defrauding investors in the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis despite holding millions of dollars in assets held by Goldman Sachs.

The complaint alleges, too, that he used his authority to intervene in an investigation into Bank of America's purchase of Merrill Lynch while being a "major" customer who "bought and sold more than $200 million in Merrill Lynch mutual funds in the days after the Bank of America acquisition."

AFV goes on to charge that Issa inappropriately touted a merger between Sirius and XM satellite radio companies, despite having a stake in Sirius through DEI Holdings, the company he founded and on which he is still a board member. Finally, the complaint accuses Issa of having secured funding through earmarks that benefited regions directly surrounding commercial properties he owned.

"The symbiotic relationship he has established between his business interests and public responsibilities presents, on a continuing basis, the starkest example of conflict of interest," said Lux, of Issa, in the statement. "As disturbing as this would be in the case of any Member of Congress, the conflict on display here is especially troubling because it involves the Chair of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform -- a Committee charged with 'proactively investigating and exposing' waste, fraud, and abuse. Surely this is a matter that warrants immediate OCE attention."

Frederick Hill, a spokesman for Issa, dismissed the allegations as "entirely without merit" and suggested it was a politically-motivated attack.

"This complaint is entirely without merit," Hill told Hotsheet in an email. "The White House has used an assortment of outside progressive groups in an effort to attack oversight and Chairman Issa directly. This is just their latest salvo in an ongoing effort to obstruct oversight."

He added: "I would note that the complainant served on the Obama-Biden Transition Team and now works as the CEO for a political consulting firm called Progressive Strategies."

In August, the New York Times published a report alleging that "at least some of the congressman's government actions" raised "the potential for conflicts." The report pointed to congressional earmarks for road work and public works projects that could benefit commercial properties Issa owns. (Issa, with an average net worth of $303,575,011, is one of the wealthiest members of the House of Representatives.)

"In one case, more than $800,000 in earmarks he arranged will help widen a busy thoroughfare in front of a medical plaza he bought for $16.6 million," according to the report, which Lux cites in his complaint.

Meanwhile, in June, the liberal blog ThinkProgress published a report arguing that Issa "went on a buying spree of high yield Goldman Sachs bonds at the same time he was running defense for the investment bank in Congress."

A memo on Issa's website disputes the Times report, and the paper ultimately issued several corrections regarding the piece. Ultimately, however, the Times' Washington Bureau Chief issued an in-depth rebuttal to Issa's complaints about the story, and defended the paper's refusal to retract it.

Hall maintains that "Rep. Issa does not and did not have a financial interest in Goldman Sachs."

"He bought a financial product from them that is not dependent on the company's performance," he told CBS News.

Hall also said Issa asked the SEC Inspector General to look into "questions of impropriety" surrounding the Goldman investigation, but that "he did not intervene."