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Monday, July 11, 2005

Shocker: Energy Company Paid $25,000 to "Have A Discussion" With Tom DeLay

As the Associated Press reports, last week, Westar Energy became the first company indicted in the TRMPAC case to admit that it gave $25,000 to DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority PAC in order to gain access to the powerful representative. (See here for background on the TRMPAC case.)

Westar sought inclusion of a provision in the energy legislation being debated in Congress at the time that would exempt the company from federal oversight under the Investment Company Act. The sought-after provision made its way into the bill, but was eventually pulled when the TRMPAC case heated up.

There is nothing surprising in the fact that a company ponied up some bucks to a PAC in order to gain access to a legislator. Nor is it surprising that Westar admitted doing so - in this case, buying access is the lesser of two evils for Westar: if it wasn't buying access, then it may be guilty of making a corporate contribution to influence elections in Texas, where corporate contributions are illegal, by and large.

Westar's revelation is a nice snapshot of where this country stands when it comes to the influence of money in politics. A company freely admits to buying its way into the office of one of the most powerful men in Washington in its efforts to avoid guilt for a crime.

Access-buying, while a rampant problem, is not the biggest danger facing democracy in America today. Our current system of elections puts representatives into office based on the strength of their appeal to fat wallets instead of the strength of their ideas. If we level the playing field for regular folks to take equal part in the process of selecting and electing candidates, it wouldn't matter so much if wealthy interests spent hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying our representatives.

As long as the rest of us allow money to dominate our electoral process, we should count on the occupants of our elected offices being the kind of people who wealthy interests believe are for sale. Heaven knows the offices themselves are.

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