Saturday, November 18, 2006

Miller Speaks Out On Election And His Future; Avoids Accountability

The Star's Robert King shares an interview he had recently with Advance America's Eric Miller in the paper's "Faith and Values" section today. King asks some very good, pointed questions of Miller. Not surprisingly, Miller is optimistic about the prospects of his anti-gay marriage amendment in the legislature this year. He sees same-sex marriage as a greater threat to marriage than divorce. And he's noncommital about another run for governor in 2008. It further reinforces my contention that Miller and his group are constantly crossing the lines of what is legally acceptable for a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization.

The side bar to King's article gives some biographical information on Miller. There's no mention that Miller is divorced and married to his second wife. The two children he mentions are his current wife Vicki's children from a prior marriage. When King asked Miller about a divorce rate of more than 50% being a greater threat to traditional marriage than same sex marriages, Miller responded with this non-answer: "I think that historically in Indiana and America, marriage has always been defined as between a man and woman. And the foundation of our society is marriage between a man and a woman. This reaffirms that longstanding position."

King shot back at Miller: "And that is equally as important as dealing with divorce?" Miller again avoided answering the question. "I think those are two separate issues." "When you are talking about strengthening marriage, I think anything you can do to enhance marriage in any way, we should do it." "We should not diminish marriage between a man and a woman." Further deflecting the issue, Miller said, "The other thing that you will be doing by passing a constitutional amendment is to ensure that children in the public schools are taught that marriage between a man and a woman is the acceptable and normal relationship in Indiana."

Miller predicted that the proposed constitutional marriage to ban same-sex marriages and the recognition of the legal incidents of marriage to any unmarried couples or groups would pass the House "with more than 70 votes." Miller expects every Republican and at least half the Democrats in the House of Representatives to vote for the amendment. Miller boasted to King of the Christian right's dominance in Indiana politics. "I think you didn't really see virtually any candidate running in Indiana at the state or federal level that said they were pro-abortion, in support of homosexual marriage, and that they wanted to tax churches," Miller said. Traditional values are still important to Hoosiers Miller insists. He notes that newly-elected Democratic congressmen Joe Donnelly and Brad Ellsworth are both pro-life.

Miller devotes time in his interview with King touting his other proposed constitutional amendment which would repeal property taxes in Indiana. Miller has no answer to how local governments and schools will replace the revenues they will lose if property taxes are repealed other than we'll have four years to figure out the answer to that question before the amendment is formally adopted by the voters. King asks Miller a very pointed question about whether Christians are making political success a higher priority than representing Jesus. "My whole desire and goal in life is to bring honor and glory to my savior Jesus Christ," Miller responded." "With that goes my desire to help fellow Hoosiers in the state," he adds.

King closes with the big question: "Is there any run for governor in your future?" "My plans are now to run Advance America so we can continue helping Hoosier families and churches," Miller responds. He didn't say no, and he still maintains "Hoosiers For Eric Miller", a campaign committee he organized more than four years ago to launch his unsuccessful bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination against Mitch Daniels in 2004. If you take a look at Advance America's website, you will see how prominently Miller is featured and how closely his name is tied to the organization's efforts to repeal property taxes. It is referred to as "Eric Miller's Repeal Property Taxes." That sounds like a campaign platform to me.

Those of you who have read this blog since the beginning are aware of my efforts to expose Eric Miller's and Advance America's abuse of our nonprofit tax laws by engaging in impermissible partisan politics and excessive lobbying activities, both of which could result in the group's loss of its treasured tax-exempt status. I want to share with you my recent effort to get the Indiana Lobby Registration Commission to investigate what I believe is an abuse of the state's Lobby Law by Miller and Advance America.

It is has been my contention that the paultry sums Advance America reports to the Lobby Registration Commission as "lobbying expenditures" is a gross under-reporting of its true lobbying expenditures, and that Miller's law firm, which has received annual, six-figure retainer payments from Advance America, has failed to properly register and report its activities as a compensated lobbyist to the Commission. In addition to the retainer fees paid to Miller's firm, Miller has consistently drawn a salary and benefits from the group worth at least $100,000 for many years, and his law office shares its office space with Advance America.

A short time after I began reporting on Advance America, the Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy contacted me and interviewed me about my investigation of Miller and Advance America. O'Shaughnessy later interviewed Miller, and he shared with me portions of an audio tape recording of that interview. O'Shaughnessy questioned Miller about the purpose of the six-figure retainer payments to his law firm. Miller's answer described the fees as being for lobbying-related purposes for the work performed by other members of his law firm, which included communications with legislators about legislation. Although these other attorneys are registered to lobby on behalf of Advance America, the law firm itself is not. If the retainer payments are paid to the law firm for lobbying purposes, then the law firm must register and report its activities to the Commission as a compensated lobbyist.

Miller's recorded response to O'Shaughnessy's question raised serious questions about whether Miller and his law firm were knowingly and intentionally violating the Lobby Law. I immediately advised O'Shaughnessy of the import of Miller's words and their value in any potential criminal investigation. O'Shaughnessy immediately claimed that the recorded interview with Miller was a privileged conversation between reporter and source. I asked O'Shaughnessy how it could be privileged since Miller was the target of his journalistic investigation, and he consented to having the conversation recorded.

For reasons that have never been clear to me, O'Shaughnessy discontinued his pursuit of a story involving Miller. I later filed a complaint with the Commission on February 17, 2006, alleging what I believe are clear violations of the Lobby Law using a form the Commission provides on its website. In addition to those stated above, I also raised questions about Miller's lobbying efforts for a sales tax break for the RV industry, which appeared to benefit the business of his largest individual campaign contributor to his failed 2004 gubernatorial campaign, and which seemed unrelated to the primary purpose of his own organization.

After nearly two months passed without hearing anything from the Commission, I contacted their office to inquire about the status of my complaint. I learned from an e-mail correspondence on April 7, 2006, from the Commission's Executive Director Sarah Nagy that the Commission would consider my complaint at its April 10 meeting only if I provided enough copies of my complaint and all supporting documents for each of four commission members. Presumably, if I hadn't bothered to contact the Commission when I did, the Commission would not have even considered the complaint because it only had one copy. The instructions for filing a complaint said nothing about filing extra copies.

During the Commission's April 10 meeting, the Commission met in executive session to consider my complaint against Advance America and Eric Miller. Because the meeting was conducted in secret, I have no idea what the Commission discussed. I do, however, know that following the meeting I was contacted by Nagy and told that the Commission would need to obtain the audio tape recording of the conversation between O'Shaughnessy and Miller to consider my complaint further; otherwise, the complaint would be summarily dismissed. In other words, nothing short of a taped confession of the alleged wrongdoer procured by a private citizen would prompt legal action on the part of the Commission.

The Commission gave no weight to the other documentation I shared with it, including Miller's own e-mail communcations to supporters that the group's annual lobbying expenses would exceed $160,000, the tax returns showing the large retainer payments to Miller's law firm, and the fact that the law firm had not registered as a compensated lobbyist. Despite the six-figure retainer payment and Miller's full-time work lobbying the legislature as a high paid staffer for the group, it reported less than $18,000 in lobbying expenditures this past year.

Well, I guess I wasn't expecting much cooperation from the Star, but I nonetheless contacted O'Shaughnessy to inform him that the Commission had requested a copy of his tape-recorded interview of Miller. I was shocked to hear O'Shaughnessy claim that he no longer had the tape. I then contacted Editor Dennis Ryerson by e-mail and explained the Commission's request to him. He repeated O'Shaughnessy's claim that the tape no longer existed, and he told me that the Star would be of no further assistance in regards to the Commission's investigation. I informed Nagy of the Star's response, and that I would not be able to furnish them the tape-recorded conversation. In a letter dated August 31, 2006 from Nagy, she wrote to me:

The full Commission has reviewed your complaint, along with your supporting materials. There is insufficient showing on your part to merit further investigation. Should you have additional and verifiable evidence, you may re-submit your complaint. At this time, the matter is closed.

This whole process basically confirmed my preconceived notion that Indiana's Lobby Law is virtually meaningless, and that the legislative-controlled and appointed Commission serves to protect legislators and lobbyists from scrutiny, and not to serve the interests of the public. The Commission's executive director is merely part-time, and the legislature makes sure it has no real resources to investigate complaints like the one I submitted.

Essentially, a lobbyist will avoid any problems under the law as long as he/she registers to lobby and reports those lobbying activities in a timely manner and pays the applicable fees. The Commission accepts on its face the validity of the contents of those reports. Its enforcement activities center almost exclusively on whether someone filed a registration and reported its activities. The bottom line is that we can expect no enforcement action on the part of the state of Indiana against Miller and Advance America. If we expect our laws to be enforced, it's going to take action on the part of the federal government.


Annette44 said...

It's too bad they won't take this up. I wonder if anyone was bribed. I guess we will have to count on the IRS to come to any sort of justice on this. Eric Miller seems to have a one-track mind on this marriage thing. Why do you think he is so obsessed with this one-man one-woman thing? Why indeed????

Wilson46201 said...

Eric Miller is looking kinda haggard these days ...

Gary R. Welsh said...

Annette, if the Star had printed the story O'Shaughnessy was preparing on Miller I assure you this would have played out much differently. The Commission would have had a difficult time ignoring a story in the state's leading newspaper. It's much easier to ignore a small-time blogger. said...

I suggest you pen an op/ed and fire it off via e-mail to every newspaper in Indiana.

(BTW, I support the effort to repeal Indiana's property tax law.)

Anonymous said...

This whole post is surreal.

Until Joe Hogsett succeeded Evan Bayh as SOS, that office handled lobbyist registration. America's worst state legislature wanted nothing to do with that, when questions started getting a little sticky, and a bipartisan group headed by Senate President Pro Tempore Bob Garton and Rep. Pat Bauer, among others, moved that responsibility to a new lobbyist commission. Appointed entirely by the legislature. Problem, meet paper tiger, meet oblivion...

That being said, profesisonal ethics were breeched when Brendan shared that tape with you. He should never have done so. I've now lost all respect for him. However valuable the information, good reporters don't share tape recordings with other interview subjects. It's bush-league (lower case "b")

But you heard what you heard. How about a notarized deposition, conducted by another attorney, with your recollections of the tape? Time, date, content, etc.
Is that a possibility? Two state-licensed individuals willing to put it on the record...sounds hard to ignore.

Miller's hypocrtical attitude is no surprise. Since the Center Township Democratic group is so adept at about we ask them to circulate some ugly stuff about Miller? Their efforts have been pretty effective thus far.

Seriously, this is not a laughing matter. You have to find some way to get that information public and force this commission to act.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Anon, I wasn't just "another interview subject." I was a source who made clear to the reporter I was not a confidential source. There was nothing improper in the sharing of the tape with me. Reporters share what they've learned with their sources to help interpret the information they've gathered. In my instance, I am very knowledgable of the state's Lobby Law having performed such work for a major law firm over a period of 5 years. As for the notarized deposition, I submitted and signed the complaint. It wasn't needed. If the Commission was truly interested in the case, they could have interviewd me. They didn't want to; they wanted the tape, which they were certain the Star would never turn over and the case could be promptly closed. I've done my part. I think it is a complete outrage that the Star decided to shove this case in the drawer rather than pursue it. I've done my part in getting it out to the public by posting the information here.

Anonymous said...

I wans't criticizing your effort, AI. I've been a reporter, and an editor. It is not commonplace for reporters to share tapes from interview subjects. In fact, most editors, if they were worth their salt, would discipline any reporter who did this. Interviews should not be prompted by other interview subjects' taped remarks, unless it's for the rare purpose of quoting your responses to those remarks prior to publication. It's a messy proposition.

I'm still trying to figure out why Brendan destroyed or "lost" the tape. Curious, dontcha think?

Nonetheless, you have done more than your share.

I suggested the notarized statement because it's clear these morons at the state don't give a rat's ass about the complaint.

Annette44 said...

Would it do any good to ask O'Shaughnessy why he supposedly destroyed the tape?