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Is Rep. Gary Miller Next to Come Under Scrutiny?

Today's Post reports that "a disgruntled former employee," Laura Flores, has accused Reps. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) of forcing staff to do personal and campaign business for them on official time. Flores, who has pleaded guilty to fraud charges for embezzling money from her employers, is reportedly cooperating with a broader Justice Department probe into members' alleged misuse of official resources for their campaigns. Harman and Abercrombie both deny any wrongdoing.

What other members might come under scrutiny by the DOJ? Which lawmakers have faced such allegations in recent years? A few candidates come to mind, but none so clearly as Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.).

Federal investigators won't have to use Google to figure out who Miller is; the California lawmaker has already been the subject of a Justice investigation -- one whose current status is unclear -- into real estate deals he made with two Southern California communities. But Miller has also been accused, in particularly memorable and colorful fashion, of misusing his staff.

In December 2006, the Los Angeles Times published a lengthy account of such allegations against Miller. The story quoted anonymous former aides, but also backed them up with letters and e-mails from and between Miller's staffers.

The lead anecdote concerns Miller allegedly asking aides to help get a position on a federal board for a local councilman whose support he was seeking to clinch one of those now-suspect land deals. The story also reported that Miller's staff "were asked, on occasion, to help his son register for college classes. They were asked to check his stock prices and put together a morning report for him. And they twice bought flowers for his wife for Valentine's Day. ... Some of the most urgent e-mails reviewed by The Times focus on tickets to concerts and sporting events. Miller has, on several occasions, interrupted his staff's congressional work to send them hunting for concert tickets," particularly for his beloved Rolling Stones.

Miller's office did not comment on most of the allegations in the original Times story, but the lawmaker strongly denied to Capitol Briefing today that he had ever misused his staff.

"We don't use my staff for campaign use, or for personal use," Miller said, adding that he had never spoken to the House ethics committee or DOJ about the subject because "there's nothing to talk about. My staff doesn't do that."

How common is it for lawmakers to ask -- or force -- their aides to do work for their campaigns or perform personal errands? It's tough to say, since most such cases go unreported. Many veteran congressional aides will privately pass on tales about themselves or co-workers having to do menial chores for their bosses, whether it's picking up their dry cleaning or making sure that their favorite bagel is waiting at their desk each morning. And plenty of staff do "volunteer" work for members' campaigns, with varying degrees of adherence to rules preventing them from conducting such activity while on the House or Senate clock.

While most such behavior occurs out of the public eye, occasionally an egregious example will see the light of day. As today's Post story points out, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) in 2006 acknowledged to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct a "lack of clarity" in delineating for his House staff what their duties were after he allegedly had them doing campaign and personal work for him. And the FBI has reportedly investigated whether Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) also had his staff improperly perform campaign work.

In response to reports about the DOJ's current investigation, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has written to the ethics committee asking for a broad probe of the issue. But the secretive ethics panel typically doesn't respond to such entreaties, and it hasn't always been vigilant about such accusations in the past (though it did helpfully release last month its latest guidance on the rules governing campaign activity). In Miller's case, there is no evidence that the committee has ever investigated his use of staff, which is striking given how many specific examples, backed up with documentation, there were in the LA Times story. That apparent inaction could be a function of timing, since the story came out in the final days of the GOP's majority in 2006, an awkward time to launch a big investigation. Or it could be that the Justice Department was -- or is -- already examining Miller's use of staff as part of its probe into the land deals, and the ethics panel has taken its traditional tack of just getting out of the way.

At the very least, it appears that there is enough information in the public file on Miller for someone -- whether it's DOJ, the ethics committee or even that new ethics office, whenever it, you know, exists -- to take a closer look at how he uses his staff. Of course, that's been the case since the LAT story came out 17 months ago. And allegedly asking your staff to get you Rolling Stones tickets doesn't exactly rise to the level of Watergate, anyway. So maybe Miller is hoping he will escape any further scrutiny. But, as his favorite band might say, you can't always get what you want.

By Ben Pershing  |  May 8, 2008; 12:20 PM ET
Categories:  Ethics and Rules  
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Comments

People should realize that Laura Flores is an admitted embezzler and not give credence to her try to go after Congresspeople.

I don't know of any Congressional staffer that doesn't work long hours and occassionally does something for their member that would be considered personal business as the member usually works even longer hours than the staff.

The only way you can justify the long hours and working for a Member of Congress and the comparatively low salary you get for it is because you believe in the person you are working for or know that in the long run the resume item you are getting will pay off.

Posted by: peter DC | May 8, 2008 1:10 PM | Report abuse

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