The FBI has dropped its inquiry into Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.'s campaign fundraising, informing the lawmaker yesterday that agents found no evidence that he violated federal laws in arranging more than $200,000 in donations from racetrack owner Joseph A. De Francis.
The federal probe focused on $225,000 in contributions that De Francis, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, gave to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee in three installments in 2002 and early 2003. Miller (D-Calvert), the campaign committee's chairman, personally solicited money from De Francis during visits to the Laurel Park racetrack.
"Now that the federal government has concluded . . . that there was no misconduct on my part, I am looking forward to putting this matter behind me and focusing upon my passion of serving the public and the Democratic Party to the best of my ability," Miller said in the statement released less than an hour after receiving a fax from Kevin L. Perkins, special agent in charge of the FBI's Baltimore field office.
Friends of Miller's said the probe, considered a preliminary inquiry, was a source of constant stress to the state's longest-serving Senate president. The agents interviewed numerous lawmakers and were often present during the legislative session that concluded in April. When first confronted with the suggestion that the donations were improper, Miller told The Washington Post: "I feel like crying. It's unbelievable. . . . I will take a polygraph test on any of this. It's outrageous."
De Francis, who was interviewed extensively during the inquiry, said yesterday he was relieved the case was being closed.
"I always had complete confidence that Senator Miller never engaged in any wrongdoing whatsoever," De Francis said. "I am extremely pleased that after what can only be described as a thorough and exhaustive and extensive investigation, the FBI and the U.S. attorney have come to the same conclusion."
The decision mirrored ones by the Maryland state prosecutor and the legislature's joint committee on ethics, which concluded there was no evidence that the donations were meant to influence legislation before the General Assembly.
None of the investigations has illuminated Miller's role in persuading De Francis to donate to the legislative campaign committee or answered questions about how the money was distributed.
The legislative campaign committee is an arm of the national Democratic Party with a mission to influence state legislative races nationally. It spent more money during the 2002 election in Maryland than in any other state.
James Browning, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, a government watchdog group that had called for a probe of the donations, said yesterday he remains deeply troubled by the case.
"Even if they didn't find evidence of criminal behavior, the fact remains he made a mockery of our campaign finance laws by sending money from his federal committee back into the state," said Browning, who was interviewed three times by FBI agents.
"It gave Miller and De Francis almost unlimited influence over the political process and the slots debate."
Browning said the timing of Miller's meetings with De Francis, as well as the timing of De Francis's contributions, suggests strongly that there was intent to use the committee to get around state campaign finance laws that limit donations to $4,000 for an individual.
"Maybe the problem is, we need more disclosure," Browning said. "It's disappointing that he can do this and face no repercussions."
When the meetings occurred, De Francis was lobbying the General Assembly to legalize slot machines at his racetracks, Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course. Miller, a longtime supporter of expanded gambling, shepherded a slots bill through the Senate, only to see it defeated in the House.
Staff writer John Wagner contributed to this report.