Here’s another timely reminder that, though the 109th Congress is on its way out the door, the inattention to ethics of its members will remain a subject well into the 110th. The Los Angeles Times reports on official actions and personal enrichment, in which a member of Congress makes something more than a cameo appearance:
With community activists packed into the Monrovia Community Center one winter night in 2000, U.S. Rep. Gary Miller (R-Diamond Bar) implored City Council members to purchase 165 acres he owned in the foothills and turn the land into a wilderness preserve.
Earlier that day, according to interviews with former Miller staff members and official correspondence reviewed by The Times, Miller asked one staffer to find a way to place one of the councilmen — a pawnshop owner with no parks experience — on the prestigious National Park System Advisory Board.
The aide said he was told to “make it a priority.”
Miller then continued to push for the councilman’s appointment even after staff members warned him that trying to secure the park board seat for the councilman could appear to be a bribe, internal memos show.
The move was one of many that Miller has made over the years in which he brought his congressional muscle to bear on personal business matters, according to the former staff members and the correspondence from Miller’s congressional office — handwritten notes, letters on Miller’s congressional letterhead and e-mails.
All four former staff members requested anonymity to protect their current jobs in politics.
“There was never a clear line in the office between what was congressional business and what was just business,” one former aide said. “The expectation was that you would do both.”
All the story seems to lack is an earmark…oh, wait, here’s The Hill:
Members of a California city council tried to secure federal funds to purchase a large swath of Rep. Gary Miller’s (R-Calif.) land as part of a wilderness preserve project.
The Monrovia City Council immediately faced resistance from its congressman, Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), who told them there was no federal money for the project.
“Members of the City Council concurred, that after talking to Congressman Dreier individually recently, there was not money readily available to purchase the properties,” read the minutes of a Feb. 29, 2000 Monrovia City Council meeting.
The minutes also quoted Monrovia Mayor Bob Bartlett as saying that Dreier’s resistance “did not mean that there would not be help or that it should not be pursued, however, it would not be an easy task. [Dreier] did indicate that he would help in any way that he could.”
Then-Monrovia City Council member Lara Larramendi Blakely, who went on to become mayor, in an interview recalled that Dreier had refused to help secure an earmark to purchase land that included Miller’s because he thought it raised obvious conflict-of-interest issues.
“Congressman Dreier said that he really could not support going after federal funds because Gary Miller’s property was involved,” Larramendi Blakely said.
In an interview earlier this year, Miller denied having anything to do with trying to secure federal money to help purchase his land.
“I had nothing to do with anything [involved in the effort],” he said, refusing to acknowledge that there was an effort to secure federal funds to help purchase his property.
If there was an effort to attain an earmark or any kind of federal money for the project, he said, “It was on the part of the City of Monrovia.”
But Larramendi Blakely said Miller was well aware of the push to attain federal money for the project. In fact, she said, whenever she traveled to Washington to lobby on the city’s behalf, he would ask about the city’s efforts to win the funds.
What interests me here is the interplay between local officials and a member of the House–the ability to bring home money for local projects (or for the local budget) or to steer plum appointments to federal advisory boards are powerful levers for influencing the folks back home. When local officials ask their member of Congress for help, are they asked for things in return?