WASHINGTON -- December 29 -- Public Citizen today asked the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct a formal investigation of possible violations of federal anti-bribery statutes by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and former Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.), as well as executives and lobbyists for the Kansas-based Westar Energy, Inc.
In a letter to Noel Hillman, chief of the Justice Department's criminal division, Public Citizen wrote that substantial evidence, especially newly-released documents from a House ethics committee investigation, suggests a possible scheme using campaign contributions to buy political favors worth millions of dollars to Westar Energy and its executives.
Besides the Westar executives, Public Citizen alleged that DeLay, Barton, who is the current chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Tauzin, who was the former chairman of the committee but now is head of the drug industry's trade association, possibly provided legislative favors in exchange for campaign contributions in violation of the federal "Bribery of Public Officials and Witnesses" statute.
According to Public Citizen, after making strategic campaign contributions, Westar appears to have been rewarded with a provision inserted into energy legislation in 2002 to exempt the company from Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) oversight if the Public Utility Holding Company Act (PUHCA) were repealed. PUHCA was slated for repeal in the House-passed energy bill in 2002, and the special exemption for Westar was later quietly inserted by the House Republican leaders into the final bill being negotiated in a House-Senate conference committee. The exemption was later dropped after it became known that Westar was under investigation for securities fraud, and the energy bill later died.
Public Citizen originally sought an investigation of the apparent money-for-political-favors arrangement by the Justice Department in June 2003. Today's letter, and the earlier complaint filed by Public Citizen, are available online at: http://www.citizen.org/cmep/westarbribery/
The watchdog group said newly-released information significantly bolsters its concern about possible criminal violations and strengthens its request for a formal investigation.
"In light of the new evidence that money may have been exchanged for preferential legislative treatment for Westar, we request that the Department of Justice conduct a formal investigation into possible violations of federal anti-bribery statutes," said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook.
Public Citizen cited documents, released as part of a recent ethics investigation of DeLay by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, including:
- An April 2002 memorandum from Westar lobbyist Richard Bornemann to Westar Vice President Doug Lawrence, recommending that Westar pursue a "Platinum Package" of campaign contributions, including a $25,000 soft money contribution to DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC) leadership PAC, and $31,500 in additional "hard" money contributions to a list of candidates associated with Reps. Barton and Tauzin for the purpose of gaining a "place at the table" during the House conference committee. Most of the contributions were made by Westar, including $25,000 given to TRMPAC.
- A May 2002 e-mail from Bornemann to Lawrence, stating that "I absolutely detest asking you for money. We all prefer to think that our powerful personalities and strategic brilliance transcend such grubbiness. Anyway, let's sum up the needs discussed in our conversation today. They keep to the boundaries of the platinum' budget as approved."
- A May 2002 memo from Lawrence to Westar executives, detailing their responsibilities to contribute money to campaigns associated with Barton and Tauzin in exchange for passage of a company-specific exemption from federal government oversight.
- A May 2002 e-mail from former DeLay energy staffer Drew Maloney to DeLay's TRMPAC staffer Chris Perkins explaining Westar's desired special exemption ("a unique problem that was addressed in the House bill") in the energy bill. Westar executives presented their exemption request to the House majority whip at a DeLay golf outing; their invitation to the golf outing, and the opportunity to talk one-on-one with DeLay and his staff members, was viewed as a reward for the company's $25,000 soft money contribution to TRMPAC.
- The Westar provision was slipped into the House conference language being negotiated with the Senate in early September 2002. On September 19, Barton (and, by proxy, DeLay, and Tauzin and five other House Republican conferees) opposed a Democratic move to delete it from a House-Senate compromise version of the energy legislation.
"It's hard to find a more offensive example of trading legislative favors for campaign contributions," said Claybrook. "The Justice Department needs to get to the bottom of this."