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Hill Leaders Often Take Corporate Jets

Even for some less well-known companies, providing private jet service to senior lawmakers is typically part of a wider lobbying campaign waged on specific legislative and regulatory issues.

Houston-based Reliant Energy Inc., for example, has flown DeLay on its corporate jet six times in the past six years; he is the only member of the congressional leadership for whom it has provided this service. The company, one of the nation's largest independent producers of electricity, is also the sixth-largest lifetime contributor to DeLay's affiliated political campaign committees, providing $214,000 since 1995.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), center, was among the leaders who either did not respond or declined to disclose details of their flights. (Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

Reliant has been embroiled in conflicts with state and federal regulators for years. In 2000, the managers of a wholly owned subsidiary allegedly chose to shut down electric power generating capacity during the California energy crisis, according to transcripts of conversations among the subsidiary's employees in federal regulatory files.

The episode ultimately led to the April 2004 indictment of the subsidiary, Reliant Energy Services Inc., and four of its officers from Texas on charges of commodities manipulation and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Since then, the firm has paid fines of as much as $82.6 million for its actions, without admitting guilt. The criminal case is pending.

In 2001, when DeLay flew aboard a Reliant jet once and an aide took a separate Reliant flight, the company was lobbying heavily against a move by both Republicans and Democrats in California to get regulators to impose an emergency limit on the cost of electricity. Its lobbying declarations for the first six months of that year listed expenditures of $870,000 for that issue and others. The company also financed a series of ads attacking California's Gov. Gray Davis, a backer of the plan.

On June 18, 2001, as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was preparing to accept the idea, DeLay wrote to the commission urging that it not do so. "Measures like price caps would plunge California deeper into its electricity supply crisis," he wrote. "I must reiterate my concern that the Commission not accede to any price mitigation proposal."

Dan Allen, DeLay's spokesman, said the majority leader uses corporate jets because he "travels to campaign events for many of his colleagues as well as to events for his own fundraising committees." He added: "Majority Leader DeLay cast his votes based on the merits of each piece of legislation."

Reliant spokeswoman Pat Hammond said the company no longer owns a jet but declined to provide any information about the "dates or business purpose" of flights it provided to DeLay.

Staff reporter James V. Grimaldi, research editor Lucy Shackelford and The Washington Post news research staff contributed to this report.

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