Last week, the AP ran a story with this astonishing lede:
AUSTIN, Texas -- A Kansas energy company said it donated $25,000 so that it could attend a golf outing with U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to try to influence pending energy legislation.
The admission from Topeka, Kan.-based Westar Energy marks the first time a company has publicly admitted to donating to DeLay's political action committee in exchange for a meeting and possible legislative help.
And who was championing the special interest exemption that Westar was so interested in?Â None other than Congressmen Roy Blunt (R-K Street) and Sam Graves (R-Mo.)
According on anÂ October 1, 2002 AP Story:
Amid a federal probe of Westar Energy Inc., key Republicans dropped support for a special regulatory exemption for the troubled Kansas utility company. The withdrawal of support virtually ensures the break will not survive.
Â The company wanted the one-of-a-kind exemption inserted in a wide-ranging energy bill. It was criticized as the kind of loophole that contributed to the failure of Enron Corp.
Westar, the biggest electric utility in Kansas, is seeking an exemption that would free it from new oversight by the Securities and Exchange Commission, if Congress repeals the 1935 Public Utility Holding Company Act. SEC oversight under the Investment Company Act, which regulates mutual funds, would kick in if Westar splits up its operations, which also include burglar alarm systems and an Oklahoma-based natural gas company.
House Republicans were pushing the provision at the request of two Missourians, GOP Reps. Sam Graves and Roy Blunt. But Graves and Blunt withdrew their backing Monday, days after the company disclosed it is under federal investigation.
The story continues:
The Topeka, Kan. company had first sought help from Graves, who in turn sought help from Blunt, according to Graves' aide Jewell Patek.
Blunt asked Tauzin and energy subcommittee chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, to include the break. Blunt serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and is expected to become the third-ranking House Republican next year.
Controversy again engulfed Westar in June 2003, when it was revelaed that it had contributed $56,500 in hopes of getting regulatory relief.
According to a June 15, 2003 story by Matt Stearns of the KC Star:
In the case of Westar, internal e-mails unearthed in an investigation of the troubled energy company revealed that executives thought that by making $56,500 in political contributions to members of Congress and campaign committees affiliated with them, they would be in a better position to argue late last spring for an exemption from a federal regulation they wanted to escape.
The donations were supposedly directed, at the request of congressmen with influence over the legislation in question, to other congressmen presumed to be facing difficult re-election bids.
Rep. Sam Graves was the recipient of one such contribution.Â Many other recipients returned the contributions once Westar's true intentions came to light.Â But Sam Graves?
The office of Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., has said the congressman has no plans to return a $1,000 political donation from Wittig. Graves was a supporter of the Westar exemption.
At the time of the June 2003 controversy, Blunt's role in the Westar scandal was far overshadowed by simultaneous coverage of his scheme to benefit Phillip Morris.
According to the KC Star/Knight Ridder coverage at the time:
The other case involved Blunt, one of the most powerful members of Congress as the third-ranking Republican in House leadership, and Philip Morris, the tobacco manufacturer that is a major Blunt benefactor.
The Washington Post reported this week that Blunt, R-Mo., tried to help Philip Morris by quietly inserting into the legislation that created the Department of Homeland Security last fall a provision that would have cracked down on illegal and Internet-based cigarette sales. Blunt said the sales are funding sources for terrorists.
Blunt took the action outside any normal committee review of proposed legislation, the Post reported, and only hours after becoming the House Majority Whip. When other GOP House leaders discovered his handiwork, they deleted it.
Blunt and campaign committees he is associated with have received about $150,000 in campaign contributions since 2001 from Philip Morris and affiliated companies. Blunt's son, Andrew Blunt, is a registered lobbyist for Philip Morris in Missouri. And, the Post reported, Rep. Blunt has a close personal relationship with a female Philip Morris lobbyist.
More to come as my stomach settles.