Saturday, June 07, 2003

Me Mad. 

It has been difficult to write these days, as I seem to be avoiding my blog, in order to avoid the helpless rage I often feel. Anyway, here is a scandal a brewin' in bayou country, what with Tauzin's name included in a Westar email, along with Representative Delay, Brandon and Shelby. Apparently they were given campaign contributions in exchange for favorable treatment in last year's energy bill. Oolala, I don't mean to jump up and down and the thought of these twits having to explain themselves to the public. I'm sure this kind of bullshit goes on all the time undercover of darkness. Its time to bring a little light to the workings of Congress and special interests. Here is the article in full from the Times Picayune:

"Donations to four in GOP tied to favor, firm says

But Tauzin scoffs at Westar's claims

Saturday June 07, 2003

By Bill Walsh
Washington bureau

WASHINGTON -- Internal e-mails from a Kansas power company describe a plan to get favorable treatment in last year's energy bill by directing $56,500 in contributions to influence key members of Congress, including Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-Chackbay.

Tauzin's name appears in a May 2002 memo written by a Westar Energy Inc. executive that outlines efforts to insert language into the federal legislation that would allow the company to expand its corporate holdings.

According to the e-mail, which was uncovered as part of Westar's own inquiry into company practices, Tauzin, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., were targeted as part of a "plan for participation to get a seat at the table."

All four lawmakers strongly deny the events as described in the documents and questioned the credibility of the company and its officials.

Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson said the Westar executives who wrote the memos were "living in la la land."

The provision that Westar wanted was inserted by Barton but ultimately stripped from the bill when lawmakers realized the company was under investigation by the Department of Justice.

Johnson said his boss, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, had never heard of Westar before news reports of the e-mail memo surfaced late this week. Although Tauzin chaired the negotiations on the failed energy bill backed by President Bush last year, Johnson said that Tauzin wasn't aware at the time that the company was seeking a special provision.

"Before today, Billy had never heard of Westar, never met with anyone from Westar and wasn't aware their language was in the bill," Johnson said Friday. "The fact that the ringleaders of this scheme have either been indicted or fired speaks to their credibility."

Westar, the largest electric utility in Kansas, sought congressional help in removing roadblocks to its plans to split its regulated utility from its other businesses. It sought an exemption from federal law to allow investment outside Kansas and for the company to dump $3 billion in debts into its utility holding company, a cost it could then try to pass on to ratepayers.

According to the e-mails and an internal company investigation, CEO David Wittig proposed a plan to steer campaign contributions to key players on Capitol Hill to add the necessary language to the pending energy bill. According to the company report, Wittig instructed executives to write checks to members of Congress he identified as pivotal.

Wittig has since resigned. He has been indicted in a bank fraud case.

On May 5, 2002, Douglas Lake, a Westar vice president, sent an e-mail asking why he was being instructed to donate $1,000 to "Volunteers for Shimkus," $1,000 to "Tom Young for Congress" and $350 to "Tom DeLay for Congress Committee."

"Who is Shimkus? Who is Young?" Lake wrote. "DeLay is from Texas. What is our connection? . . . I am confused."

Doug Lawrence, vice president of public affairs, wrote back May 22: "We have a plan for participation to get a seat at the table approved by David (Wittig). The total of the package will be $31,500 in hard money (individual) and $25,000 in soft money (corporate). Right now, we have $11,500 in immediate needs for a group of candidates associated with Tom DeLay, Billy Tauzin, Joe Barton and Senator Richard Shelby."

The memo went on to say that DeLay's acquiescence "is necessary before House conferees can push language we have in place. (Rep. John) Shimkus (R-Ill.) is a close associate of Billy Tauzin and Joe Barton, who are key House conferees on our legislation. They have made the request in lieu of contributions to their own campaigns."

Young, the memo notes, is Shelby's former chief of staff. It said that Shelby "is our anchor on the Senate side. He has made a substantial request of us for supporting Young's campaign."

Knocking Tauzin's stance

Tyson Slocum, energy research director for Ralph Nader's Public Citizen, expressed skepticism about Tauzin's contention that he didn't know about the Westar provision.

The bill language never mentioned the company by name, but Kansas utility regulators wrote a letter in September to Tauzin and other House committee members asking that the provision sought by Westar be stripped. In a letter about the same time to Tauzin and other energy bill negotiators, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., called the proposed exemption "an Enron-like loophole," referring to the disgraced energy trader. On Sept. 30, after news broke of the Westar probe, Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., wrote a letter to Tauzin asking that the provision be withdrawn.

Slocum also pointed out that Tauzin's political action committee, the Bayou Leader PAC, received $2,800 in contributions from Wittig, Lawrence, Lake and another Westar executive July 31.

"It is ridiculous for someone who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee to plead ignorance. If that's true, he shouldn't be in Congress," Slocum said. "A chairman of a committee is not going to allow language inserted that he didn't understand. Everyone knew it was a Westar deal."

But Johnson, the Tauzin spokesman, said that members shouldn't be expected to track every provision, especially one that relates to a single company, in complex legislation.

"This was a 1,500-page bill. It was a very small provision," Johnson said. "This may have impacted that company, but it didn't impact national electricity policy. That stuff goes to the staff. Every piece of paper that goes to the committee does not cross Billy's desk."

Public Citizen has called for investigations by the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department. Neither would say Friday whether one had been opened.
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Bill Walsh can be reached at bill.walsh@newhouse.com or (202) 383-7817. "