Austin, Texas A Kansas energy company said it donated $25,000 to a political action committee so that it could attend a golf outing with U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay in 2002 to try to influence pending energy legislation, court documents show.
The admission from Topeka-based Westar Energy marks the first time a company has admitted to donating to DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority committee in exchange for a meeting and possible legislative help.
In court documents obtained by The Dallas Morning News, Westar officials said after they made the donation, two company executives attended a June 2002 golf outing with DeLay and two top aides at The Homestead resort in Hot Springs, Va.
The deal stemmed from conversations between Drew Maloney, a former DeLay aide who organized the event, and Westar lobbyist Richard Bornemann, according to information from Westar officials and last year's report from the House Ethics Committee investigating DeLay.
The ethics report said Bornemann asked Maloney about political contributions and Maloney proposed the DeLay golf outing with the check going to Texans for a Republican Majority. Maloney said DeLay's staff did not require that donations be given in exchange for access. Bornemann could not be reached for comment by the newspaper, but Westar officials said he no longer lobbies for the company.
The company claims it sent the money to talk with DeLay about getting an exemption in federal law, but not to affect legislative elections in Texas.
The provision the company sought was included in a House bill with DeLay's support, but it was later withdrawn after an Austin grand jury began investigating corporate fund-raising in the state's 2002 legislative races.
The criminal investigation, being conducted by the district attorney in Austin, is looking into whether the PAC funneled illegal corporate contributions to GOP candidates for the state Legislature. Three of DeLay's top fund-raisers and eight corporations, including Westar, were indicted last year. All of the companies denied wrongdoing. Charges have since been dismissed against four of the companies in exchange for agreements that they will fund programs about the use of corporate money in politics.
A separate civil case involves five Texas Democrats who lost state legislative races in 2002, claiming that corporate money donated to the PAC was spent on political research, polling, mailing, fund-raising and conferences. Under Texas law, corporate money can be used by PACs for administrative purposes, but not for direct campaign expenses.
In a legal brief filed in the criminal case, Westar officials wrote that the meeting with DeLay "sought to influence high-profile federal energy legislation. Westar had received what it wanted from the transaction when it met with Congressman DeLay in Virginia."
Legislative favors in exchange for political donations are illegal under federal law.
DeLay spokeswoman Shannon Flaherty said DeLay wasn't swayed by the donation. "Anyone who has worked with Majority Leader DeLay knows that his legislative efforts are based on sound public policy alone," she said.
DeLay was admonished by the ethics committee last year, saying the golf outing "created an appearance that donors were being provided special access."