A Virginia Senate committee mildly rebuked state Sen. Nathan H. Miller (R-Rockingham) today for violating the chamber's ethics rule, ending a controversy that erupted last fall during his unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor.
The 11-to-1 vote by members of the Privileges and Elections committee marks the first time that a Virginia legislator has been chastised by his colleagues on an ethics issue.
The panel voted to enter into Senate records a report finding that Miller, a 38-year-old lawyer, had violated Senate ethics rules and exhibited poor judgment when he accepted legal fees from the state's electrical cooperatives while he was writing and voting for legislation that gave the co-ops $13.2 million in tax breaks and business advantages.
The report, however, calls for no formal reprimand of Miller or further action by the full Senate. That angered Sen. Adelard L. Brault (D-Fairfax), who has long championed stronger conflict-of-interest legislation for the state's lawmakers. Brault voted alone against the committee report.
The panel's decision followed a lengthy and sometimes heated debate over Miller, who earlier this week told reporters that the report exonerated him from any charges of wrongdoing.
At one point during the debate, Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan (D-Fairfax) urged his colleagues to call for an official reprimand of Miller: "To say that we are simply going to leave the matter is to suggest, by implication at least, that this conduct was not serious enough to warrant further action," Gartlan said.
Others countered that Miller had suffered enough: "In my judgment this constitutes punishment or disciplinary action, to a certain extent," said Sen. Howard Anderson (D-Halifax), chairman of the investigative subcommittee that wrote the report.
The panel also adopted, by a vote of 12-0 with one abstention, a report clearing Sen. Willard J. Moody (D-Portsmouth) of charges that he had violated the state's conflict law and the Senate's ethics rule. Neither Miller nor Moody could be reached for comment today. Earlier this week, when the reports were first released by the subcommittee, Moody, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, said the report was proof that he had not violated any ethics standard.