Democratic Congressman George Miller III has an Ethics Problem

When news broke that powerful Rep. George Miller III (D – Calif.), a close ally to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D – Calif.), took official action to benefit a solar power firm represented by his son George Miller IV, Rep. Miller’s office issued a stark denial that his son lobbied him on the issue. Yet the now-defunct company, SunPower received a $1.2 billion green energy loan guarantee from the Obama Administration, in part, because of support and requests from Rep. Miller.

Rep. Miller told the Contra Costa Times that, “My son and I do not talk business.” But mounting evidence suggests that is not the case and a pattern of official actions that benefit the clients of Miller’s son is emerging.

The Washington Examiner has now documented at least three instances where Miller the Elder took action that specifically benefited his son’s clients including a company that is now under FBI scrutiny.  George Miller IV was paid $320,000 to lobby for the Seeno Construction through 2009 according to federal lobbying disclosures.

Seeno Construction is a California-based company owned by the Seeno family. The Seenos have a long history of giving money to Democrats, according to Federal Election Commission records. Donations of the Seeno family include $4,870 to Rep. Miller, $90,000 to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D – Nev.), and to Democratic congressional committees, more than $120,000.

In 2004, Miller IV lobbied against the relocation of a county airport where the Seenos owned 1 million square feet of office space.  Rep. Miller wrote a letter pressuring the Federal Aviation Administration to block the move.  The airport remains there today.

In 2005, Miller IV lobbied again on behalf of the Seeno, this time to remove an easement allowing Seenos to build a 1,400 home subdivision.  Though environmental groups opposed the removal of the easement and tried to defeat the removal in a ballot measure, Rep. Miller wrote a letter supporting the Seeno’s position – interestingly inconsistent given his “green” voting record.  The letter was sent to Miller’s constituents and the ballot measure passed in Rep. Miller’s congressional district by a small margin.

In 2010, the FBI raided the offices of Seeno Construction.  An attorney for the Seeno’s has said that federal officials were investigating a corrupt politician to whom the Seenos had donated money during a campaign and were collecting documents.  Last week, a Seeno executive was indicted on charges including wire fraud.  The Seenos are reportedly paying her legal bills.

A legal representative for Seeno Homes, a division of Seeno Construction, was unable to confirm that her company has contracted with Miller IV for lobbying services, but referred me to Seeno’s general counsel. At the time of this writing, my call had not been returned.

The Code of Government Ethics says:

“Never discriminate unfairly by the dispensing of special favors or privileges to anyone, whether for remuneration or not; and never accept for himself or his family, favors or benefits under circumstances which might be construed by reasonable persons as influencing the performance of his governmental duties.”

It is becoming clear that Rep. Miller has crossed that line.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of the liberal watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said the father-son relationship could be troublesome for the Congressman. “If he took action on behalf of one of his son’s clients, that would be inappropriate,” Sloan said.

The time has come for the House Ethics Committee to get involved.  Other members of Congress, including former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, were beguiled for a far less.  Congress should not turn a blind eye to these apparent violations of House rules.