Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Bipartisan ethics trouble

Republicans raised red flags when Democrat Allan Mollohan -- whose finances are currently under investigation by the FBI -- was poised to chair the House Commerce, Justice and Science subcommittee, which oversees the FBI's budget. Democrats ignored the protest and Mollohan today chairs the subcommittee -- though he has promised to recuse himself from votes on the Justice Department's budget.

The Republicans were in the right on that one. But it turns out they have their own problem with another subcommittee. The Financial Services Committee's oversights and investigation committee, and the ranking Republican, Gary Miller.

After months of GOP ethics scandals, House Republicans chose Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.) as the ranking member of a panel charged with investigating financial institutions — even as the FBI was looking into his land deals.

Representative Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), ranking member of the Financial Services Committee, named Miller to the top GOP spot on the oversight and investigative subcommittee Jan. 9, according to a committee release. Watchdog groups have been raising red flags on several of Miller’s land deals since The Hill and other media outlets first scrutinized them early last year. Yesterday, a spokesman for the southern California city of Monrovia confirmed that agency officials had contacted the city about Miller’s land deals in the last two months.

The quoted portion is wrong, because Miller's problems involve allegations of tax evasion -- the domain of the IRS, not the FBI. That makes his situation the same as Mollohan's, because his subcommittee oversees the Department of the Treasury, which contains the IRS. He's not the chairman, true; but Miller should not be the ranking member, either. A member, fine; he is innocent until proven guilty. But not in a position of authority.

Details of Miller's transactions can be found here and here. Among them: trying to get a federal position for a city councilman who was about to vote on a land deal that would net Miller $10 million, using his staff for personal errands, and using his office to try to get Rolling Stones concert tickets.

Further, he avoided paying taxes on the $10 million by claiming the property was taken through eminent domain -- even though Miller had been lobbying the city to buy the parcel, and the program the city was using to buy the land specifically prohibited eminent domain takings. He then repeated the tactic twice more with the proceeds.

Like William Jefferson's frozen, foil-wrapped $90,000, the evidence against Miller is too strong to give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to important positions.

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