Construction began on their first tract in Claremont in 1955, and more homes soon followed.Major expansion of the company began in the ’70s, as Lewis Homes branched out to Sacramento and grew its existing business in Nevada. The Lewises’ four sons – Richard, Robert, Roger and Randall, who now run the company – slowly began to assume greater responsibilities.By the 1980s, Lewis Homes had reached the development big leagues.“We became one of the largest private home builders in America,” said Randall Lewis, executive vice president of sales and marketing. “In the ’80s and the ’90s, … we were typically the biggest, or second- or third-biggest, private home builder in the country.”Then, just as the housing markets in California and Nevada were growing red hot, the Lewises sold the home building division to Kaufman and Broad – now KB Home – in 1999. The move cleared the way for them to focus on what had been their side businesses.In the years since, they’ve completely reinvented the operation, positioning themselves as one of the region’s top developers of shopping centers, upscale apartments and master-planned communities.All told, the Lewis Group has built nearly 57,000 homes, 9,000 apartment units and11.2 million square feet of retail, office and industrial development. Across California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah, they’ve developed a combined 24,000 acres – roughly the size of Rancho Cucamonga.The company’s assets total more than $1.5 billion.“I don’t know of anybody else who even approaches what Lewis has done and continues to do,” said Reggie King, chairman and chief executive officer of Young Homes, another Inland Empire-based developer. “They really are a part of this community. They are integral to this area.”While it has garnered recognition and numerous awards from development organizations and elected officials, the group’s projects have won favor from some environmentalists as well, who praise the company for avoiding car-dependent sprawl in favor of efficient, pedestrian-oriented communities.“I would describe them as very much in the progressive wing of the master planning developers in Southern California, or California – maybe even the nation,” said Dan Silver, chief executive officer of the Endangered Habitats League.Facing scrutinyThe political presence of the Lewis Group in the Inland Empire is unmistakable. During the past six years, the company and its top executives have given nearly $2.3 million to political campaigns and causes, ranging from city council races to the area’s representatives in Congress.“We take a pretty active stance on the political side,” Randall Lewis said. “As races have gotten more important, we’ve ramped up what we do.“We’d love to see a system of campaign reform where it doesn’t cost as much. But where there are good candidates, we want to see them get elected or reelected.”Of all the company’s political connections, its relationship with Miller – who declined to be interviewed for this story – has come under particular scrutiny over the past year.The relationship dates back more than 30 years, to when Miller was a young developer. In recent years, he and Lewis have connected on a number of business deals:The company entered into a business partnership with Miller in July 2004, with the congressman investing between $1 million and $5 million in a Lewis-owned, 70-acre housing and retail development in Diamond Bar that had just been approved by the City Council.That same year, Lewis officials sold Miller several parcels in Fontana and Rancho Cucamonga, allowing him to shield millions in profits from an earlier land sale from potential capital gains taxes. The company loaned him $7.5 million for the sale.Meanwhile, the company’s top executives have donated $22,150 to the congressman’s campaigns since 1999. (In that time, Miller has received a total of more than $2.3 million in contributions from individuals and political committees.)Pointing to the connections, watchdog groups and media outlets have highlighted Miller-supported legislative measures that stood to benefit the Lewis Group.“It looks like Miller used his position … to push for something that benefited his friend and business partner, Lewis Operating,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington. “As a member of Congress, you can’t use your position to directly benefit your friends and family, and it looks like that’s what he did.”In August 2005, Miller secured $1.28 million in federal funding for improvements to Grand Avenue, a major artery through Diamond Bar that passes in front of the development he co-owned with Lewis. Miller sold his stake in the development in October 2005.In the same legislation, he secured $6.8 million to help extend Pine Avenue to the 71 Freeway in Chino. City leaders touted the project as an important transportation link to The Preserve, a major Lewis master-planned community.Miller also pushed for a provision to close the Rialto Airport, which cleared the way for the Lewis Group to purchase the site. It has plans with a business partner, Hillwood Development Corp., to develop Rialto Renaissance, a planned community of housing, shopping and recreation.In all three cases, city officials had lobbied for Miller’s involvement.Yates, Chino’s mayor, said he flew to Washington, D.C., in October 2003 to enlist Miller’s help on the Pine Avenue offramp. Noting that the road is a priority for officials in Chino, Chino Hills and Riverside County, he rejected the suggestion that Miller’s involvement was in any way a favor to Lewis.“I would say that’s pretty ludicrous,” he said.Ned Wigglesworth, a policy advocate for California Common Cause, a Sacramento-based group that first called attention to the Diamond Bar funding, said Miller’s actions fall within an ethical gray area.“He’s a congressman – that’s part of his job, to fight for federal dollars in Washington,” Wigglesworth said. “But the actions he has taken have not benefited just the community at large. Many of the dollars that Miller has brought back here have benefited his campaign contributor and business partner.”In a statement, Miller said media reports have “thoroughly mischaracterized” his relationship with the Lewises, whom he said “have always been honorable and above board.” He denied using his office for the company’s benefit.“This suggestion is ridiculous and could not be farther from the truth,” he said. “It presumes that I am intimately acquainted with the business dealings of every individual who has supported me in my runs for office. Moreover, it presumes that I not only know the details of my contributors’ business dealings, but that I would intentionally steer public funds to help them in their efforts.”When pressed that his business deals with the Lewis Group made them different from a typical contributor, Miller, through a spokesman, declined to elaborate.Randall Lewis also declined to comment on the company’s relationship with Miller, but said in a statement that the Lewis Group is “committed to acting according to the highest ethical standards.”Establishing connectionsThe Lewis Group, of course, is by no means alone in its involvement in local politics.In the same six-year period that the Lewises gave nearly $2.3 million, fellow Inland Empire-based developer Young Homes gave at least $2 million to political causes. Mark Christopher Chevrolet, another politically active local business, gave at least $975,000.King, the Young Homes’ CEO, said the reasons for donating to political campaigns can vary.“Sometimes it’s the obvious purpose that a developer feels like a certain candidate is pro-development, and would rather a pro-development candidate \ than someone who opposes development,” he said. “Sometimes you have the longer-term interests of the area in mind.”That’s certainly true for the Lewis Group, Randall Lewis said.In general, the company contributes to candidates who share its views on responsible growth, Lewis said. But it also factors in candidates’ commitment to social issues such as health and education.“In a lot of cases, we support candidates where we’re not doing business,” he said.San Bernardino County Supervisor Paul Biane – who has received $119,000 in the past six years – said he hasn’t voted on any Lewis project during his four years on the Board of Supervisors.He attributed the company’s support to a longtime friendship between the two families and a shared belief in sustainable development. Campaign donations would not lead him to show political favoritism, he said.“Every project, whether on the Board of Supervisors or the City Council, has its own merits,” said Biane, a former Rancho Cucamonga councilman. “The name on the project has never influenced me. … It has to make sense.”In Ontario, where three council members have received a combined $94,000 from the Lewises during the past six years, City Manager Greg Devereaux said the Lewis Group hasn’t received any special breaks.During tough negotiations over development in the city, where Lewis is involved in two master-planned communities, political pressure wasn’t a factor, he said.“I’ve never ever had a council person come to me and say, ‘I want you to do something for so-and-so because they gave me money,”‘ Devereaux said. “I’ve never seen a council member do something for a donor that they didn’t think was the right thing for the community.”For the Lewises, political and philanthropic giving isn’t about winning influence, Randall Lewis insisted. It’s more about establishing the company as a familiar face that cares about the success of the region, he said.And with their table set with projects for at least the next 10 years, one thing’s clear: When it comes to local involvement, the Lewises will be major players for a long time to email@example.com(909) 483-9338Following the moneyThe Lewis Group and its top executives have given nearly $2.3 million in donations and in-kind contributions to political causes and candidates since the start of 2001. Among the major recipients:Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, at least $204,400San Bernardino County Supervisor Paul Biane, at least $118,986San Bernardino County Supervisor Josie Gonzales, at least $80,314Chino Councilwoman Eunice Ulloa, at least $52,686 (included campaign for county supervisor)Ontario Mayor Paul Leon, at least $51,251San Bernardino County Supervisor Gary Ovitt, at least $49,500 (included campaigns for Ontario City Council)Ontario Councilman Alan Wapner, at least $33,561 (included campaign for Assembly)Rep. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino, $31,203Rancho Cucamonga Mayor Don Kurth, at least $26,688Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, at least $25,253 (included campaign for Assembly)Rancho Cucamonga Councilman Sam Spagnolo, at least $22,598Rep. Gary Miller, R-Brea, $21,150San Bernardino County Assessor Bill Postmus, at least $20,758 (included campaigns for county supervisor)Assemblyman Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, at least $19,900Riverside County Supervisor Marion Ashley, at least $18,900Fontana Mayor Mark Nuaimi, at least $18,835Rialto Councilman Joe Baca Jr., at least $16,890 (included campaigns for Assembly and state Senate)Rancho Cucamonga Councilman Rex Gutierrez, at least $12,091Rancho Cucamonga Councilwoman Diane Williams, at least $10,250Ontario Councilman Jason Anderson, at least $9,500Source: California Secretary of State, Federal Election Commission160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Take a drive through inland Southern California, and it’s almost impossible to miss the signature of the Lewises. The Lewis Group of Companies has built thousands of homes and dozens of shopping centers, office buildings and industrial parks from the San Gabriel Valley to the High Desert.But the Upland-based company has helped shape more than the region’s physical landscape: It’s emerged as both a major philanthropic force and a significant political player, as well.Over the years, Lewis has given millions to charitable causes and – in the past six years alone – nearly $2.3 million to political campaigns.In recent months, it’s the politics that have made headlines, focusing on the company’s long and close relationship with Republican Rep. Gary Miller, who represents Diamond Bar, Chino, Chino Hills and Whittier.Still, the Lewis Group maintains a stellar public image, in large part because of its extensive community involvement and reputation for smart developments.“\ probably the only developer I can tell you that develops communities and doesn’t take the money and move to Newport Beach,” Chino Mayor Dennis Yates said. “They are excellent corporate citizens. God knows they’ve given back to the community. … On a scale of one to 10, they’re a 10 in my book.”Building an empireThe Lewises’ ascent began more than 50 years ago, with a married couple and their small accounting practice. Ralph and Goldy Lewis had been doing the books for clients in the real estate industry for years, and decided in the mid-1950s to launch a home building company of their own.