June 10, 2003
Westar update

Well, well, it looks like this Westar scandal may have some legs, after all. Turns out that in addition to the cash payments made to campaign groups associated with four legislators, a Westar lobbyist attended two of their fundraisers as well.

The lobbyist, Richard H. Bornemann, played a key role in Westar Energy Inc.'s efforts in 2002 to benefit itself through an amendment to a big energy bill in Congress. Those efforts have drawn attention and criticism recently, prompted by the disclosure of e-mails by Westar executives discussing their belief that $56,500 in donations to campaign groups affiliated with Tauzin and three other GOP lawmakers would get Westar a "seat at the table" during crucial negotiations over the energy bill.

Descriptions of Bornemann's role paint a clearer picture of how Westar planned and delivered campaign donations last year to the groups linked to Reps. Tauzin, Joe Barton (R-Tex.) and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.). At the time, Westar was seeking an exemption from a federal regulation that treated it as an investment company, to Westar's financial disadvantage. Barton eventually inserted the Westar provision into the energy bill, but later pulled it when the company came under federal investigation.

All four lawmakers named in the Westar e-mails say they never suggested the company would receive any special treatment in return for political donations.

Bornemann attended at least seven Washington fundraisers sponsored by Barton and Tauzin in the spring and summer of 2002. The events were held on behalf of vulnerable House Republicans, both lawmakers said.

Bornemann brought checks from Westar chief executive David C. Wittig, Tauzin's office said yesterday. The lobbyist also attended a Tauzin fundraiser in Louisiana last June. Six weeks later, four Westar executives wrote checks to Tauzin's "Bayou" leadership political action committee totaling $2,800, according to federal election records.

You know, I think what really makes this whole thing stand out in terms of tawdriness is the relatively small amount of graft money involved. I mean, $2800? You could raise that much at a garden club bake sale.

It should be noted that just because Bornemann attended these fundraisers that he wasn't necessarily welcome:

Tauzin, however, recognized Bornemann at his Louisiana reception and ordered his staff to throw him out, Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson said. Johnson said the lawmaker had barred Bornemann from his office years earlier after the lobbyist misled Tauzin on a railroad matter.

He was also probably wearing white shoes after Labor Day.

In any event, the WaPo has editorialized in favor of an investigation:

So last year 13 Westar officials coughed up $31,500 in individual, or "hard money," contributions that went to selected Republican candidates. Westar gave $25,000 in corporate "soft money" to the Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, a political committee with strong ties to Mr. DeLay, reports The Post's Tom Edsall. And what next? The provision sought by Westar was inserted in the energy bill last September by Rep. Barton. Democrats tried to strip the amendment out but lost in a party-line vote, with Mr. DeLay, Mr. Barton and Mr. Tauzin supporting the Westar amendment. Two weeks later, it was disclosed that a grand jury was investigating Westar. The provision was dropped from the bill.

The Justice Department can't let this matter drop.

Indeed. Thanks again to Alfredo Garcia, my main Tom DeLay watchdog, for sending this to me. Despite the Texas connections of this story, I haven't seen anything about it in the Chron other than a reprint of the original AP wire story and a two-line blurb stating that Democrats were calling for an investigation. Hey, guys, this is yet another Tom DeLay tempest. When will we see some reporting on it?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 10, 2003 to Scandalized! | TrackBack