April 7, 2004
Public Citizen Asks House Members to Push for Ethics Investigation Into DeLay’s Westar Vote Buying Scandal
After 10 Months, Ethics Committee Appears to Have Failed to Act on Watchdog Group’s Complaint
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Because the House ethics committee has failed to act, Public Citizen today sent a letter to all members of the U.S. House of Representative asking them to seek an investigation into allegations of vote buying by Westar Energy Corporation, which targeted senior House Republicans, including Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).
Internal Westar e-mails released last year outline Westar’s plan to buy a “seat at the table” in a House energy conference committee by contributing cash to influential lawmakers in exchange for their support of a special regulatory exemption. The exemption would have allowed Westar to split its regulated utility from the rest of its businesses, enabling executives to reap millions while $3 billion in unrelated debt would have been transferred to the utility company, saddling consumers with higher electricity rates.
The company e-mails also say that Reps. DeLay (R-Texas), Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) requested that Westar make contributions to their political allies instead of to their own campaigns. Westar executives complied by contributing a total of $63,000, following a carefully drawn schedule for how much each executive was to donate to the various candidates across the country. The contributions included a $25,000 soft money donation to DeLay’s TRMPAC for use in Texas state elections.
Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook last June asked the House ethics committee to investigate the Westar matter, but the committee refuses to consider complaints from anyone who is not a member of Congress. In today’s letter (click here to view) Public Citizen wrote, “No one – other than the public – is looking at the possible vote buying that may have occurred in Congress concerning Westar Energy. To preserve the public’s confidence in the integrity of the House of Representatives, it is important that this matter be addressed. . . . Only you, or a colleague, may request that the House ethics committee investigate potential violations of ethics rules by its Members.”
Barton acknowledged inserting the special provision for Westar into energy legislation that was pending in a House-Senate conference committee in September 2002, even though it had never passed in either the House or Senate bills. The provision was removed shortly thereafter by House Republicans after revelations that the company was under a Securities and Exchange Commission criminal investigation for corporate fraud.