Links Between Lobbying, Fundraising, Legislation Laid OutBy Dan Morgan, Washington Post Staff Writer
October 8, 2004
On April 23, 2002, lobbyist Richard Bornemann wrote a memo laying out a long-term plan by which Kansas-based Westar Energy Inc. could gain influence in Washington by "joining the fold, so to speak," of then House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). Over the next several months, Westar contributed $25,000 to a Texas political fund affiliated with DeLay, and Westar employees donated $33,200 to various congressional campaign committees, including those of DeLay and senior House GOP members in charge of energy legislation.
Westar executives then used their newfound access -- which included an invitation to a golfing and fundraising event at a West Virginia resort -- to press DeLay and his aides to add to a pending energy bill a provision that Westar considered vital to a corporate restructuring plan. The provision was included, despite the objections of officials at the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Eventually, however, it was jettisoned, and the broader energy legislation was never enacted.
This chronology, laid out in Wednesday's report by the House ethics committee on DeLay's relationship with Westar, provides a close-up glimpse of the close links between lobbying, fundraising and legislation in the office of the man who is now the No. 2 Republican in the House.
While admonishing DeLay and concluding that he had created at least the "appearance" that donors were being provided special access, the committee's five Republicans and five Democrats found that neither the majority leader nor his aides had improperly solicited contributions or "taken action with regard to Westar that would constitute an impermissible special favor."
But the 38-page report clearly establishes that executives and lobbyists for Westar -- an obscure Kansas electricity company when it set out to build a "long-term presence" on Capitol Hill -- were able to make their case directly to DeLay and his top aides after anteing up substantial sums for GOP political causes.
For example, a May 14, 2002, corporate contribution of $25,000 to Texans for a Republican Majority, a state entity affiliated with DeLay, was the price of admission for two Westar executives to attend a DeLay retreat with other electricity executives at the Homestead in West Virginia, according to the report.
The June 2002 event was organized by lobbyist Drew Maloney, who had been DeLay's energy specialist until that March. Maloney told the committee: "I was seeking $25-50K per participant."
A Westar executive shared a cart with a DeLay aide for a round of golf on June 3, then attended a luncheon at which he "restated [to DeLay] Westar's position" regarding the need for a provision in the energy bill, according to a statement provided to the committee by company lawyers.
On June 25, Westar Vice President Doug Lawrence asked 13 company officials to provide $5,000 for a fundraiser for Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.), then chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. His memo noted that "right now we have made significant progress" with DeLay and with Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), chairman of the energy subcommittee of Tauzin's panel.
"The contributions made in the first round were successful in opening the appropriate dialogue," Lawrence said in the memo.
At the time, Westar was trying to split into two companies and was concerned that one of the newly created entities could face an onerous new regulatory environment if Congress went ahead with a major restructuring of the nation's electricity industry. The solution it sought was a "grandfather" provision that would shelter Westar from new regulations.
Between June and the end of September 2002, the ethics committee's report recounts, Westar officials met privately at least once with DeLay and Barton, and twice with DeLay's energy specialist.
Barton had included a version of the Westar provision in electricity legislation beginning in 2001. On Sept. 19, 2002, Barton and DeLay opposed a Democratic move to delete it from a House-Senate compromise version of major energy legislation.
But soon after that the provision was dropped from the legislation.
"Things are grim in D.C.," Lawrence wrote to Westar chief executive David Wittig on Sept. 30, 2002. Reports had started to circulate that prosecutors had begun a federal fraud investigation of Westar.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Kansas Corporation Commission had announced that he was opposed to the Westar provision. "The DeLay staff has asked us to release people from their commitment to support our provision," Lawrence wrote.
But in response to the ethics panel's questions about this e-mail, DeLay said he was not aware that he or his staff had made any such commitments to Westar. DeLay further told the ethics committee that "to my knowledge neither I nor anyone in my office took any affirmative action to assist Westar in having this legislation included" in the final version of the energy bill.
In the end, House and Senate negotiators were unable to resolve their differences over the bill, and the legislation died at the end of 2002.