Apr 06, 2004

Pincers Closing in on DeLay?

If you want “a seat at the table” to make your own legislation, you know where to go:

Westar Energy Inc. has finished an internal investigation of its political activities during the 2002 election cycle, and the Federal Election Commission is now involved, the company’s chief executive said Monday.

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Last year saw the disclosure of company e-mails from 2002 detailing a plan to give $56,000 to Republican congressional campaigns that year “to get a seat at the table” of a House-Senate conference committee on energy legislation. House members of the committee supported a regulatory exemption sought by Westar.

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The policy change came three months after an internal company report said executives had “engaged in organized efforts” to contribute to state and federal candidates “perceived to support issues of interest to the company.”

The report also said, “At least some officers felt pressured to contribute,” and spurred Westar to investigate further.

The biggest donation was $25,000 by the company to a political action committee affiliated with U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican, then the House whip, now the majority leader.

And what was that PAC?  Well that would be the Texas Association of Business (TAB), which you might remember from its involvement in the ongoing corporate funding scandal regarding the Texas legislature:

...in May 2002, an executive at Westar Energy discovered his company was about to make a political donation that, on its face, seemed rather odd. Westar Executive Vice President Douglas Lake didn’t understand why his Kansas-based energy company with no operations in Texas and no stake in the state’s elections would give $25,000 to a Texas congressman’s PAC that operates solely in Texas campaigns.

“DeLay is from TX. What is our connection?” Lake emailed a colleague. Westar Vice President Douglas Lawrence responded that contributions to DeLay, Texas Republican Joe Barton, Billy Tauzin (R-La), and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) were necessary to get “a strong position at the table” during a House-Senate conference committee hammering out a federal energy bill, according to documents unearthed by a federal investigation and first reported by The Washington Post. Westar wanted language added to the final bill exempting the company from certain forms of regulation. Even though Westar has no connection to Texas, the company needed DeLay’s approval. The price, Westar executives were allegedly told, would be a $25,000 contribution to DeLay’s TRM. Lawrence wrote, “DeLay is House Majority Leader. His agreement is necessary before the House conferees can push the language we have in place in the House bill.”


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