An independent advocacy group, started last spring by Washington lobbyist Ed Gillespie to promote the president's energy plan, was funded entirely by Gillespie's corporate lobbying clients, who quietly gave cash to the 21st Century Energy Project to support causes that would benefit both the companies and the president, Newsweek has learned. And one of the firms that chipped in was Enron, which stood to gain off Bush's pro-energy agenda, Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff reports in the February 25 issue of Newsweek (on newsstands Monday, February 18).
(Photo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20020217/HSSU003 )
Sources tell Newsweek the now-bankrupt Enron gave more than $50,000 to the Project, secretly routing the money through one of its members, Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative interest group run by activist Grover Norquist. Asked about Enron, Norquist replied: "We don't disclose our donors." Another contributor was Daimler-Chrysler, which hired Gillespie, a $700,000 a year consultant to Enron who is also well-known for his tight relationships with the Bush White House, to lobby against stricter fuel economy standards. The automaker gave $50,000 to Gillespie's project, steering the money through Citizens For a Sound Economy, a conservative think tank.
When Gillespie started calling the leaders of conservative interest groups last spring, asking them to join the group, they figured Gillespie was discreetly doing the White House's bidding, reports Isikoff. "Administration officials generally don't ask for support directly," says American Conservative Union President David Keene. "It's more a wink and a nod." At the time, the Project didn't get much notice. But now, with lawyers and lobbyists in the capital scrambling to find ways around tough new restrictions on corporate campaign contributions, Gillespie's innovative Project may become a widely copied example of a way to keep the dollars flowing.
In a May press conference launching the group, Gillespie said the money came from contributions from the Project's 10 members, which included Keene's ACU and the United Seniors Association. When Newsweek called the Fund's members and asked how much money they'd put up, eight of the 10 said they'd given no money at all: Gillespie had asked only for their support, not their cash. The White House says it had been "notified" about Gillespie's ad campaign. But spokesman Dan Bartlett said, "they never gave us any details on what the financing was." Gillespie says there was nothing improper about his efforts: "This was straight-forward issue advocacy."