Westar Energy and executives to pay $40,500
By SUZANNE GAMBOA, Associated Press
August 19, 2005
WASHINGTON -- Westar Energy Inc., two former company executives and a lobbyist agreed to pay fines totaling $40,500 to settle accusations of violating federal election laws by using corporate resources to make political contributions to members of Congress, including House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
The contributions were made by top former Westar executives who used company personnel and resources to collect and distribute the contributions during the 2002 election cycle. Thirteen Westar executives contributed $32,700 in response to solicitations from the executives, the Federal Election Commission said in documents released Thursday.
Under the agreement, Westar will pay a $20,000 civil penalty. Douglass Lawrence, former vice president for public affairs, agreed to pay $8,500; former chief administrative officer Carl M. Koupal Jr. agreed to pay $7,000; and the company's outside lobbyist Richard Bornemann agreed to pay $5,000.
Two Westar executives left the company at the end of 2002 after being accused of trying to loot the company during their tenure and are now facing a 40-count indictment on fraud.
Westar's own lawyers alerted the Federal Election Commission to the possible violations by the company's former officers. Their November 2003 complaint said none of the officers whose activities were in question were still with the company.
"We had done an internal investigation and decided we should turn it over to the FEC and let them evaluate it," said Jim Ludwig, Westar vice president of public affairs. He said the company no longer gives corporate contributions to candidates, even in states where such donations are permitted, and instead has started an employee political action committee.
Westar's contributions were questioned after the company disclosed internal documents describing a plan for using more than $55,000 in campaign donations "to get a seat at the table" of a House-Senate conference committee working on the Bush administration's energy bill in 2002.
Westar e-mails detailed contributions the company would make to some of the key members of the conference committee. The e-mails were written 1 1/2 weeks before Republicans held a get-together at The Homestead, a Virginia resort.
Westar at the time wanted lawmakers working on the energy bill to include a legislative exemption for the company from regulatory oversight. The exemption, which would have saved the company billions of dollars, was introduced by Texas Republican Rep. Joe Barton, who received a Westar contribution. House Republicans dropped their support once the federal fraud investigation of the former Westar executives began.
Some lawmakers who received Westar contributions at that time have returned the money or contributed the equivalent to charity.
Westar also contributed $25,000 to the Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee, now the subject of a separate criminal investigation in Travis County, Texas. Westar is charged in that investigation with making an illegal contribution to the committee, which helped fund legislative campaigns.
Texas prohibits using corporate or union money for election activities, except for administrative purposes. Three DeLay associates also are indicted in the probe, but DeLay, R-Texas, has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
Westar has said the contribution was considered payment for attending a 2002 golf outing with DeLay. But Westar attorneys said in a recent hearing that former executives hoped the contribution would influence DeLay on energy legislation.
DeLay's office has said the contribution did not affect his decision making.
"We believe that contribution was legal under federal and state laws," Ludwig said.