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The Bornemann Conspiracy


Published August 25, 2009 at 5:04 p.m.

I was in a hurry yesterday when rewriting and posting this snooze release about the new head of the Ethan Allen Institute (deadline work for the column and such), and missed doing a bit of homework on Rick Bornemann.

Bornemann is a former utility exec and lobbyist who will take over as president of the free market think tank from retiring State Sen. John McClaughry.

Turns out the guy's got a colorful history as a lobbyist. And, the firm he worked for was Governmental Strategies, Inc. (not Government Strategies as the release noted).

Other media outlets have hinted at his digressions, but here's the full recap on why he ran afoul of federal election laws.

In 2005, Bornemann was fined $5000 by the Federal Elections Commission for taking part in a scheme to funnel $60,000 in campaign contributions to several top Republicans in 2002 while working for the Kansas-based Westar Energy. Those lawmakers included: Tom DeLay (R-TX), Joe Barton (R-TX), Billy Tauzin (R-LA), Sam Graves (R-MO) and Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL).

On his own, according to the FEC, Bornemann earmarked $10,400 to 17 different campaign committees.

According to the FEC complaint, Bornemann wrote an email to his client — Westar Energy — in 2002 that they needed to give money to top members of Congress, including $25,000 to a political action committee backed by DeLay, "to develop a significant and positive profile for the Company's federal presence."


Westar was fined $20,000, while two company officials were fined $8500 and $7000, respectively. Bornemann was the only other person fined. The FEC's ruling in this case, according to a variety of reports, also clarified how corporations can, and cannot, direct fundraising efforts using company time and money. Essentially, the FEC ruled it was OK to bundle as long as corporate execs and lobbyists weren't doing it on the clock.

In its ruling, the FEC said it was clear Bornemann wasn't simply volunteering to help fundraise. "Instead, the lobbyist involved was advising the corporation regarding its employees’ political contributions (including impermissible facilitation thereof) and delivering those contributions for, and as a compensated representative of, the corporation," the commission said in its ruling. “A lobbyist volunteering in his individual capacity on behalf of a campaign may collect and forward (‘bundle’) contributions on behalf of the recipient campaign, party or political committee. In such instances, the lobbyist-volunteer may personally solicit contributions, including from employees of clients.”

Ah, D.C. rules.

McClaughry said the EAI board was well aware of Bornemann's FEC fine when he interviewed for the job and discussed the matter thoroughly. He claims it was a case of being wrapped up in an investigation involving two energy execs who had run afoul of their own company. In fact, the two Westar executives were later ousted from the company, according to documents on file with the FEC.

Vermont Yankee critics will love his other stint in life.

As a utility executive in Connecticut starting in 1987, Bornemann was the lead representative from the Seabrook Joint Owners Executive Committee and helped the nuclear power plant in Seabrook, N.H., win an operating license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. From there he went to work for a group that later became the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Hey, maybe the guy should be working for Entergy. Or, Vermont's Public Service Department.