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Donation Brought Access to DeLay

Posted in the database on Friday, July 08th, 2005 @ 01:53:06 MST (1594 views)
by Wayne Slater    The Dallas Morning News  

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AUSTIN – A company indicted in a Texas campaign fundraising case says it was told that by giving a Tom DeLay political committee $25,000, company officials would get access to the U.S. House majority leader to influence legislation.

In court documents, Westar Energy of Kansas says that to meet with Mr. DeLay in 2002, company officials "were told they needed to write a check for $25,000" to Texans for a Republican Majority, known as TRMPAC.

It's the first time a company has said it donated to the Texas committee created by Mr. DeLay in exchange for a meeting and legislative help.

An aide to Mr. DeLay denied that he was swayed by the donation.

"Anyone who has worked with Majority Leader DeLay knows that his legislative efforts are based on sound public policy alone," spokeswoman Shannon Flaherty said.

Westar attorney Martha Dickie declared in April in an Austin court that company officials hoped to win Mr. DeLay's help on pending energy legislation, according to transcripts in a lawsuit challenging the use of corporate money in Texas elections.

Seeking an exemption

"They absolutely wanted an exemption to continue operating the business and to be grandfathered out of this federal legislation," she said in the hearing. "And maybe they were dumb about the way they went about getting it."

As a result of the contribution, two Westar executives attended a June 2002 golf outing with Mr. DeLay and two top aides at The Homestead resort in Hot Springs, Va.

The provision sought by Westar was included in a House bill with Mr. DeLay's support but was ultimately withdrawn after a grand jury in Austin began investigating corporate fundraising in 2002 Texas legislative races.

TRMPAC raised $1.6 million for Republican statehouse candidates in 2002, including at least $600,000 from corporations.

Those funds helped Republicans complete their grasp on political power statewide, with the GOP taking a majority in the Texas House for the first time in more than a century. In turn, the Legislature redrew congressional districts to create several Republican seats, adding to Mr. DeLay's majority in the U.S. House.

Westar spokeswoman Karla Olsen said Wednesday that the company made the contribution "to tell our side of the story" without any guarantee that the law would be changed.

"We understood we were only having discussions," she said.

Company lawyers wrote that the contributions were "solicited," though they did not specify how exactly the request occurred. Federal law prohibits the promise of legislative favors in return for political donations.

The House ethics committee admonished Mr. DeLay last year, saying the golf outing "created an appearance that donors were being provided special access." But the committee said it had no evidence that Mr. DeLay had improperly solicited contributions from Westar or had broken the law.

Grand jury indictments

A Travis County grand jury has indicted three DeLay associates and eight companies, including Westar, on charges of violating Texas law that forbids the use of corporate money to elect political candidates. All of the companies denied wrongdoing.

Prosecutors have since dismissed felony indictments against four of the corporations in exchange for their agreement to fund programs examining the use of corporate money in politics.

In addition to the grand jury probe, Democrats defeated in the 2002 legislative races have filed civil suits, claiming TRMPAC improperly funded their Republican opponents with corporate money. Westar is among the companies named in those lawsuits.

In a filing in district court in Austin, Westar attorneys said the company's goal in sending $25,000 to TRMPAC was to talk with Mr. DeLay about getting an exemption in federal law, not to affect legislative elections in Texas.

"Westar sent its check to the national capital to pay for attendance at an event to meet a prominent Republican federal official from Texas. The meeting sought to influence high-profile federal energy legislation," the company said.

"Westar had received what it wanted from the transaction when it met with Congressman DeLay in Virginia," the brief said.

According to Westar officials and e-mails that were part of the House ethics inquiry on Mr. DeLay last fall, the $25,000 solicitation for the golf outing stemmed from conversations between Drew Maloney, a former DeLay aide who organized the event, and Westar lobbyist Richard Bornemann.

The House ethics committee report said Mr. Bornemann asked Mr. Maloney about political contributions and Mr. Maloney proposed the DeLay golf outing with the check going to TRMPAC. Mr. Maloney confirmed the report's account.

Mr. Maloney said Mr. DeLay's staff did not require that donations be given in exchange for access to the majority leader.

"Westar's position is evolving as their legal proceedings continue," he said.

Mr. Bornemann could not be reached for comment. Westar officials said that Mr. Bornemann no longer lobbies for the company.


How a Kansas energy company came to donate to a Texas political committee:

March 2002: Drew Maloney leaves Tom DeLay's staff and becomes a lobbyist, assisting with DeLay fundraising.

April 2002: Westar seeks a meeting with Mr. DeLay to argue for an exemption to a federal energy law. Mr. Maloney tells Westar lobbyist Richard Bornemann that a $25,000 contribution would get access to Mr. DeLay at a golf outing.

May 2002: Mr. Bornemann says in a memo to Westar executives that the $25,000 contribution is part of an effort "to get a seat at the table" in negotiations over federal energy legislation.

June 2002: Two Westar officials join other energy executives for a two-day golf outing with Mr. DeLay at The Homestead resort in Virginia. DeLay energy aide Jack Victory and office counsel Carl Thorsen are also in attendance.

September 2002: Mr. DeLay and Republicans oppose efforts by Democrats to delete the Westar exemption from federal legislation. The provision dies after word of the Austin grand jury investigation into corporate contributions. "Things are grim in DC," Westar vice president Doug Lawrence says in an e-mail to a company official.

SOURCE: Dallas Morning News research

© Copyright 2005 Dallas Morning News

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