Emerging political star dimmed by scandal

Links to an indicted lobbyist cast Ehrlich administration official Edward B. Miller's promising future into doubt

October 16, 2005|By ANDREW A. GREEN | ANDREW A. GREEN,SUN REPORTER

Edward B. Miller has shown a knack for hitching himself to stars.

As a high school student from Pikesville with a civics assignment, he volunteered for the re-election campaign of then-Del. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who would become governor a decade later and make his one-time helper his deputy chief of staff.

In between, Miller parlayed a college research project into a job with GOP message guru Frank Luntz just as the pollster was helping Rep. Newt Gingrich frame the "Contract with America," which swept Republicans into control of Congress in 1994.

And now his relationship with indicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff has embroiled him in a high-profile scandal. The troubles threaten to torpedo a promising political career that had Maryland Republicans discussing Miller's chances of winning a congressional seat next year.

Miller was subpoenaed last year by a federal grand jury to discuss his dealings with the lobbyist, and U.S. Senate testimony recently exposed a transaction in which Abramoff steered a $2 million contract lobbying contract with Tyco Inc. to a company Miller founded. The bulk of that money - $1.5 million - was subsequently diverted for Abramoff's use, according to the testimony. What happened to the other $500,000 is unknown.

Now Democrats are eagerly seeking to tie Miller to what they describe as a climate of corruption and cronyism in Washington - and, by extension, damage Ehrlich politically. The governor's office has issued a statement asserting that that Miller has been cooperating with federal investigators and remains a "valuable member of the team."

The idea that Miller might run for the seat being relinquished by Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin is being treated by Democrats like an opportunity, not a threat. "We think he would represent the Republicans very well," said Josh White, political director of the Maryland Democratic Party.

Miller has declined requests for comment since news first surfaced of the transaction involving Grassroots Interactive, the company he set up in 2003.

Public records, news reports and interviews with those who have known Miller show a young man who has risen fast by working hard and forging connections with those who share his conservative politics, Jewish faith, or both.

Ehrlich has given Miller, at age 34, oversight authority for a significant share of the state government, including the departments of agriculture, business and economic development, environment, and natural resources, and his ties to the party go to the very top.

"Ed was a smart guy who always knew he was a Republican and loved politics. He's a great asset to the governor's team," Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, who grew up in Pikesville at the same time as Miller, said in an e-mail.

After getting his bachelor's degree in history at the University of Pennsylvania in 1993, Miller moved to Arlington, Va., and became an analyst for the Luntz Research Cos. About that time, Luntz - who had worked with Miller as an adjunct professor at Penn - was helping develop the 10-point "Contract with America," which Gingrich used to sweep Republicans to power in Congress for the first time in decades.

Miller and Luntz had a common interest: increasing the number of Jews who identify with the Republican Party.

Luntz, who is also Jewish, serves on the board of the Young Jewish Leadership political action committee, which works to link the U.S. pro-Israel community to the GOP. Though Abramoff's connection to Miller is unknown, the lobbyist, who is an Orthodox Jew, served with Luntz on that committee's board, as well as another that was once run by Gingrich.

In 1997, Miller went to law school at the University of Virginia, where he was editor of the Virginia Journal of International Law.

After law school, Miller took a job with the Wall Street law firm of Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett, where he handled financial transactions and won an award for pro bono work.

While in New York, Miller contributed articles to the online edition of the National Review, a conservative journal.

In a 2003 interview with the Baltimore Jewish Times, he said he volunteered for Ehrlich's campaign for governor while still living in New York, but shortly after the election, Miller, his wife, Iris, and their three children moved back to his hometown.

Miller grew up in the Stevenson area in a ranch-style house nestled in a wooded hillside. After attending the Beth Tfiloh Community Day School, he went to Gilman School in North Baltimore.

Miller met the future congressman and governor through Nick Schloeder, his teacher at Gilman, who had also been Ehrlich's teacher. Schloeder said he assigned students to volunteer for a political campaign as a way to give them direct experience with democracy, and Miller picked Ehrlich.

Even as a high school student, Miller was an articulate conservative, and Schloeder, a Democrat, said he enjoyed playing the foil to his student in classroom debates.

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