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Monday | June 23, 2003

What's this Westar thing all about?

I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the Westar saga, but it goes something like this:

Westar, a Kansas-based, Enron-like energy company, needed special legislative favors (an exemption from a federal regulatory provision). The exemption would allow the firm's president and vice president to split the company to great personal benefit (in the $10-15 million range, each).

Westar's Washington lobbyists sprung into action, identifying those Republicans necessary to make the provision happen. Among the beneficiaries were Reps. Joe Barton, Billy Tauzin, and Sen. Shelby. Shelby, in fact, ordered Westar to also donate to his former chief of staff, then running for Congress. Tom DeLay's PAC received $25,000. (This same PAC is now being investigated in Texas for violation state election laws.)

The AP words it thusly:

An e-mail by a Westar executive, which surfaced in an internal company probe, says that Tauzin and Barton had requested donations for a particular congressman "in lieu of contributions made to their own campaigns." The e-mail added that Shelby had made "a substantial request of us for supporting" the campaign of Shelby's former chief of staff and that DeLay's agreement "is necessary before the House Conferees can push the language we have in place."
Ultimately, Westar's DC lobbyist told the firm it would cost $56,500 to "get a seat at the table".

One Westar executive wrote back, "DeLay is from TX. What is our connection?" The obvious response: DeLay's "agreement is necessary before the House Conferees can push the language we have in place in the House bill." A few weeks later, the company issued DeLay's PAC their check.

The $25,000 bought Westar time at a retreat with DeLay, in which they discussed the amendment the company wanted to purchase with that cash.

Not coincidentally, Barton then did his master's bidding and inserted the requisite Westar-friendly provision, with DeLay's blessing, into the House's energy legislation. Democrats tried to strip the provision out of the legislation, but the GOP kept it in on a party-line vote.

So what makes this little scandal different than the rest? Don't both parties sell legislation to the highest bidders? Isn't that how business gets done in D.C.? Perhaps, but none are so brazen as the Republicans. There's a reason they routinely have twice the money the Democrats raise.

Well, the Westar board of directors, dismayed at the direction in which their company was headed (did I mention it was an Enron clone?), launched an internal investigation, exposing the company's corruption for the world to see. The effects have sent a shockwave through D.C. Watch DC Republicans frantically try and divest themselves of their Westar bribes.

But there's more! Remember how Aschcroft couldn't wait to start investigating Edwards for a handful of illegal contributions to his campaign(contributions that Edwards immediately returned)?

Well, he's ignored calls to investigate this much more serious matter. Why? Rank partisanship? That goes without saying. But as always with this administration, it goes deeper than that. Turns out that Ashcroft himself was the beneficiary of Westar's generous campaign contributions, and rumors abound (I'm still trying to confirm this) that a former Ashcroft top staffer was among the indicted Westar executives.

This is a complicated scandal, but it can be boiled down to its essence (if the Demcrats so wished to, you know, oppose Republicans): Westar bought Republicans. The GOP is bought and paid for, and not by the common American.

(This is the sort of thing Josh Marshall is usually all over. The sort of thing a full-time journalist with sources can heartily dig into. What's he waiting for?)

Westar a Saga of Money's Role on Hill
Delving Into Those Donations
Utility's Papers Outline Donations to GOP
Washington's Other Scandal

Posted June 23, 2003 10:07 AM | Comments (59)


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