WASHINGTON -- Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and his top aides worked closely with industry executives and lobbyists who were major campaign contributors to frame the Bush White House's energy plan last year, according to documents released under court orders.
From last February through July, Abraham met with representatives of at least 20 energy corporations and trade associations that gave more than $3 million to Republicans from 1999 through 2001. Democrats received at least $1.1 million from the same sources in the same period.
The 11,000 pages of heavily edited documents from the Energy Department provide the first glimpse into the behind-the-scenes efforts that shaped the energy policy unveiled last May by President Bush.
"It should come as a surprise to no one that the energy secretary consults with energy experts, and whether or not these experts have made campaign contributions to the Republican Party or the Democratic Party is not an issue," said Energy Department spokeswoman Jeanne Lopatto.
Meeting court deadline
The documents were released late Monday to meet a court-imposed deadline in lawsuits to lift the cloak covering the internal working of Bush's energy policy task force chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney. The department is fighting to keep most of an additional 15,000 pages secret.
"Hi, Joe," an American Petroleum Institute executive said in an e-mail last March to senior Abraham adviser Joe Kelliher. Kelliher was the department's point man with the White House on Cheney's energy plan.
Laying out a proposal that Bush adopted as his own two months later, the oil industry trade group suggested the president issue an executive order requiring federal officials to formally consider the impact on energy supplies before they issue regulations.
"Agencies shall prepare and submit a Statement of Energy Effects" for many rule makings, the president said in an executive order issued on May 21 after the task force also recommended it.
Petroleum Institute spokesman Mike Shanahan said the executive order proposal grew out of the oil industry's perception that the government was not adhering to existing law. According to Shanahan, the industry spoke to Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., author of the National Environmental Policy Act, and that Dingell said the government was supposed to be assessing the impact of rule making on energy.
Abraham's schedule in the months leading up to the task force's report includes many contacts with energy industry heavyweights.
Heavyweight phone call
A phone call with Exxon-Mobil chairman Lee Raymond on April 25 was followed by a meeting with coal producers, senior Bush political adviser Karl Rove and a White House political aide. One of the agenda items for the meeting: "Energy Politics."
"Karl is a senior adviser to the president and provides him guidance and counsel on a number of issues," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters. "The president values his advice."
At the time of the meeting, Rove had extensive stock holdings in energy companies -- including Enron, General Electric, Royal Dutch Shell and BP Amoco. Rove sold his stock in those and 19 other companies last June for $1.5 million, after receiving an exemption allowing him to defer payment of taxes on capital gains.