Some news on the Westar case, in which four GOP legislators are alleged to have altered legislation in a way that would favor a Kansas utility in return for campaign donations. Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-Louisiana), who has already attacked the statements made by a Westar lobbyist, has continued to trade barbs with him.
"I welcome any inquiry by any party so that this matter might be laid to rest once and for all," said former Westar lobbyist Richard Bornemann.
Bornemann said he was simply responding to faxed invitations from the organizers of the eight Tauzin-Barton fund-raisers.
Tauzin said through a spokesman that Bornemann had contacted Tauzin's fund-raisers a year ago and obtained a list of all eight upcoming events known as "Tex-Cajun cookouts."
Bornemann "was never solicited and no one from Westar ever attended these events with the exception of Bornemann himself," said Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson.
Bornemann responded by disclosing a notice sent to his office by the fund-raising organizers.
"He asked for" the list of fund-raisers, Tauzin's spokesman insisted. "He said he had a client who wanted to participate and he was then faxed a complete rundown of events. He was never solicited and if he's saying otherwise he's a liar."
"To be told there's some quid pro quo, that's just stupid. It's just dumb. It just didn't happen," he said in his first extensive comments since questions were raised about his actions on behalf of Westar. "I may be cranky. I may be a contrarian. But I am not crooked and I am not corrupt. I play by the rules, and I've done it for the 19 years I've been in Congress."
Mr. Barton said he believed Westar "was the only utility in the country that could be regulated as a mutual fund company" if Congress repealed the 1935 Public Utility Holding Company Act, something he has long advocated. "A utility that has an alarm company is not a mutual fund company," he said.
Mr. Barton and several other members of Congress have tried for years to repeal the Public Utility Holding Company Act. The law bars holding companies from building a national chain of utilities and subjects their acquisitions and trades to SEC supervision.
The SEC has urged repeal of the act since 1995, arguing that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is better suited for utility oversight.
The SEC monitors other types of holding companies, which typically are firms holding shares for their customers – in other words, investment companies that deal in instruments such as mutual funds.
Mr. Barton said he met with Westar lobbyist Richard Bornemann two years ago to discuss the company's concern that repeal of the holding company law would leave it subject to SEC scrutiny as a mutual funds firm.
The lobbyist explained Westar had approached the SEC about getting an administrative exemption but wanted legislative language as well, Mr. Barton said.
"I was approached and presented with the problem. I had staff check it out," Mr. Barton said. "So I decided we'll put it in the bill and see who squawks and who doesn't."
There were squawks from the Investment Company Institute, the Securities and Exchange Commission and energy committee Democrats.
So let's say there's an investigation of this Westar business. Who should be looking into it? Normally, you'd say the Attorney General. Only problem is, he's been a beneficiary of Westar's checkbook in the past, too:
Democratic National Committee Chairman Terence McAuliffe said Attorney General John Ashcroft, in his unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid, received two donations totaling $2,500 from a lobbyist and senior executive with the Topeka, Kansas-based Westar Energy Inc . The company's former chief executive, David Wittig, was indicted for fraud last year.
McAuliffe already had written to Ashcroft last week asking him to seize records of four Republican lawmakers concerning over $55,000 in donations that Westar made to political groups linked to them last year even as the company was seeking an exemption on Capitol Hill from federal regulation.
But in his letter on Tuesday, McAuliffe said that because Ashcroft received a $2,000 donation from Westar lobbyist Richard Bornemann and $500 from then-Westar executive Carl Koupal for Ashcroft's 2000 Senate campaign, the attorney general should let someone else probe the company's donations.
Going back to the first story, I can't help but think that this problem is much more pervasive than any one company or legislator getting caught being naughty. Look at this paragraph:
On April 23-24, 2002, Tauzin and Barton staged "Tex-Cajun cookout" fund-raising events for Shimkus and Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo). They were the first two of eight such Tauzin-Barton events on behalf of House Republicans facing competitive re-election races. All eight events were held at the American Trucking Association offices in Washington or at the Washington lobbying firm of former Republican congressman Jack Fields of Texas.
OK, my moment of idealism is over. Let's move along.Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 13, 2003 to Scandalized! | TrackBack