In a signed statement delivered to Maryland lawmakers yesterday, the chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party asserts that state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller did not ask for money during a January 2001 meeting in Miller's office.
The statement is part of a packet of documents, obtained by The Sun, that Miller gave yesterday to the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics to defend himself against allegations that he used his Annapolis office to solicit funds for a national Democratic group he heads.
The ethics committee is considering whether to investigate the charges, a non-criminal violation of legislative regulations.
The packet contains a canceled check showing that AT&T, which was represented at the meeting along with Pennsylvania state representative and party chairman T.J. Rooney, wrote a $40,000 check to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee on Dec. 15, 2000 -- about four weeks before the gathering in Miller's office.
A second check for $40,000 is dated April 9, 2001, three months after the meeting.
"Truth is an absolute defense," Miller said yesterday. "The documents are attested to by both myself and the other parties at the meeting. There was never any discussion of fund raising, ever. I would like to put this matter to rest."
The documents do not address the central allegation surrounding Miller: that he allegedly used the campaign committee to collect large donations from groups with interests before the Maryland General Assembly and directed money back to state candidates in a deliberate attempt to circumvent campaign finance limits.
The FBI has opened a preliminary inquiry into $200,000 in donations made to the campaign committee by a racing group controlled by Joseph A. De Francis, chief executive of the Maryland Jockey Club and owner of the Pimlico and Laurel racetracks. Miller was a strong supporter of legislation this year to install slot machines at racetracks. The Washington Post first reported the fund-raising questions this month.
Miller said yesterday that the FBI has not contacted him. Many preliminary inquiries end without further action, bureau officials have said.
According to the Post, Miller's personal calendar contains an entry for the January meeting with Rooney and J. Michael Schweder, president of AT&T for Pennsylvania and New Jersey to discuss national campaign committee business. Miller, chairman of the committee that aims to place and keep Democrats in state capitals nationwide, told the paper he "probably" discussed fund raising at the time.
But since then, first Schweder and now Rooney have come forward to say that money was not a topic. Miller has also changed his recollection, but is refusing to elaborate on the inconsistency.
"All I can tell you is what is in those papers," he said. "I don't want to get into a name-calling contest. The whole thing has been very frustrating for me."
Telephone messages left at Rooney's Harrisburg office were not returned yesterday. Schweder said that he has not been asked to sign a statement. Other documents in the packet show that AT&T has given money to the committee since 1998, and Schweder has said that since the company has given regularly, there was no need for talk of a specific contribution during the meeting with Miller.
James Browning, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, conceded the difficulty in demonstrating that Miller misused his office with all three participants denying that money was discussed. But Browning is not withdrawing his written request that the ethics committee investigate the charge.
"Miller's previous statements make him his own worse enemy," Browning said. "This new information doesn't alleviate our concerns, nor does the dating of the checks. Let's say we take Miller at his word on everything: We're still left with conflicting statements."
Del. John S. Arnick, a Dundalk Democrat and ranking co-chairman of the ethics committee, said yesterday that he would discuss the documents with committee members and would seek consensus on how to proceed.
No meeting has been scheduled, and Arnick said he also wants to determine whether his committee would interfere with the federal probe. "My [first-] blush reaction is it probably is not a conflict with them," Arnick said, but if so, he would delay the committee's work.
Rooney's signed statement, dated Friday but not witnessed or notarized, describes the topics of the 2001 meeting as humorous and inconsequential.
"He told Mr. Schweder and me there was an issue involving a member of the Senate who was complaining about another member wearing a Ravens jersey on the Senate floor," Rooney wrote. "Additionally, Senator Miller told us about the new Senate office building that had been named after him. The entire meeting took approximately ten to twelve minutes. ... At no time did Sen. Miller make any solicitations to Mr. Schweder. Additionally, at no time did Sen. Miller or anyone else in the room discuss any legislation."