Dec. 12, 2003
Westar Executives Charged With Looting Utility – But What About Action on Possible Congressional Bribery?
Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook
Although federal prosecutors have charged two former executives of Westar Energy, the largest electric utility in Kansas, with looting $32 million from the company, no action has yet been taken on evidence indicating a possible criminal bribery scheme by these same Westar executives and involving certain members of the U. S. Congress.
That is why Public Citizen once again has sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice calling on the agency to fulfill its responsibilities. (A copy of that letter is available here.) Members of all political parties need to ensure that our democratic processes are not corrupted by the exchange of cash for legislative favors.
The two indicted Westar executives, David Wittig and David Lake, were part of a scheme in 2002, revealed through e-mails released by the company’s board of directors, to obtain “a seat at the table” in last year’s energy bill conference committee by giving money to a number of congressional campaigns. The campaigns included those of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas); Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), who co-chaired the energy conference in 2002 and 2003; and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), an influential member of the conference both years.
According to the e-mails uncovered in the bank loan investigation, Lake was asked to give money to several congressional campaigns, none of them in Kansas. He sent a return e-mail asking, “What is our connection?” and was answered that these were for the “immediate needs” of key members of the conference committee who would decide whether a regulatory exemption the Westar executives wanted in order to promote their scheme to sell off utility assets, would be included in the 2002 energy bill.
The contributions were made by Westar executives, and the Westar exemption was included in the GOP bill by Barton. When Democrats in conference committee moved to take out the special company exemption, Barton and seven other Republican members defeated the motion and kept it in. Finally, shortly after the Securities and Exchange Commission bank loan investigation became public, the Republican leaders agreed to remove the Westar exemption.
The various e-mails clearly revealed an attempt to exchange campaign contributions for legislation. Since the exemption being sought for Westar was in fact inserted in the GOP conference bill and kept there when challenged by a vote of members who had either received the campaign contributions or designated them for others, Public Citizen and other groups have called for the Department of Justice and the House ethics committee to investigate possible acts of criminal bribery. Despite the recent Westar indictments, neither the DOJ nor the House ethics committee has taken any action on the matter.
Instead, Tauzin and Barton were given leadership roles again in this year’s conference committee on the energy bill, which has been widely criticized for its expensive special interest provisions, many of which were not previously included in the House or Senate bills that the committee was supposedly “reconciling” in conference.
For more information on the Westar scandal, and to read the internal memos, click here.