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Ala. Bar Dismisses Shelby Complaint

A complaint against Sen. Richard Shelby was dismissed by the disciplinary committee of the Alabama state bar after the Alabama Republican denied seeking campaign donations in exchange for legislative aid to a Kansas utility company.

‘In view of the nature and content of the complaint and the enclosed response of [Sen. Shelby], we will take no further action in this matter,” wrote Carol Wright, an investigator in the bar association’s general counsel office.

The complaint had been filed last month by a new liberal-oriented ethics watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. A similar complaint the group filed with the Senate Ethics Committee is pending.

The complaint alleged that Shelby, chairman of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, solicited campaign contributions from Westar, the Kansas utility company, in exchange for Shelby’s support for an amendment to energy legislation that would have saved Westar billions of dollars.

‘Simply stated, the complaint is baseless and without merit,” Shelby wrote in a July 8 letter to the bar. ‘I did not solicit campaign contributions, either directly or indirectly, from Westar employees in the Spring of 2002. And, not only did I not undertake any action on behalf of Westar in or following the Spring of 2002, or at any other time for that matter, I was never even aware of Westar’s efforts until I read about it in press reports this year.”

But Shelby acknowledged that a Westar lobbyist, Rick Borneman, contacted his staff in September 2002 to request that Shelby send a letter in support of a House provision that would have provided a specific exemption to the repeal of the Public Utility Holding Company Act.

Shelby said the aide who received the e-mailed request discussed it with his chief of staff at the time, who decided not to support the provision because it was contrary to Shelby’s longstanding efforts to repeal PUHCA.

The aide then contacted Borneman ‘the same day to let him know that they would not recommend that I send a letter to the conference committee in support of the House provision.”

Shelby stressed that he was not aware of that contact and the decision of his aides until after the controversy involving Westar erupted earlier this year. Shelby also said that the September request ‘was the only contact with my office on this matter that I am aware of.”

‘While I have known Rick Borneman for many years, I was not aware of his representation of Westar or his efforts to assist them in the Spring of 2002,” Shelby wrote.

In addition, Shelby flatly contradicted an allegation arising out of an internal Westar e-mail concerning campaign donations to his former top aide. Shelby said that he had ‘no information or appreciation of Westar’s expectation with respect to their contributions to the campaign of” his former chief of staff, who ran an unsuccessful race for a House seat.

The former aide, Tom Young, received $15,000 in donations from Westar executives.

A May 20, 2002, e-mail from Douglas Lawrence, a Westar vice president, noted that Shelby is ‘the lead Republican on all Senate PUHCA-related matters. He is our anchor on the Senate side. He made a substantial request of us for supporting” Young’s campaign. Eleven days after the e-mail, Young’s campaign received more than $7,000 in donations from Westar executives.

Again, Shelby said that he became aware of the donations to Young’s campaign only earlier this year.

Young, in a statement submitted to the bar association, said he had solicited donations from Borneman in spring 2002. After that single contact, Young’s fundraiser, Beth Walker, had a number of follow-up telephone conversations with Borneman.

‘I do not believe that Senator Shelby ever solicited Mr. Borneman for campaign funds on my behalf. My fundraiser, Ms. Walker, and I solicited Mr. Borneman directly,” Young wrote.

Young said he did not know that Borneman represented Westar and said Borneman never spoke to Young about Westar or its legislative issues.

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