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Democrat wants inquiry into Westar donations

Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 15, 2003

WASHINGTON - The ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee has asked the attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate campaign donations to Republicans by a utility seeking a legislative exemption that could have saved the company billions of dollars.

In a letter to John Ashcroft, Rep. John Conyers said Friday that only a special counsel from outside the Justice Department, "with no ties to the Republican Party or the Bush administration," can ensure a fair investigation.

Internal Westar Energy documents raised the question whether there was an exchange of campaign contributions for legislative favors to help Westar, a Topeka, Kan., energy conglomerate.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Billy Tauzin, energy subcommittee chairman Joe Barton of Texas and Senate Banking Committee chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama have denied any link between more than $55,000 in donations to various members of Congress and a regulatory exemption that was dropped when Westar came under a grand jury investigation last year.

Conyers noted that Ashcroft's Senate campaign received $500 from a Westar executive.

"Investigating high-ranking Republicans by an attorney general who has himself received campaign contributions from the entity involved constitutes a conflict of interest," Conyers wrote.

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