Getting the Ear Of Dick Cheney

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Cheney leads a meeting of his task force

Dick Cheney has taken a hard line against the General Accounting Office, refusing its efforts to get information on meetings held by his energy task force. Critics suspect that Cheney is stonewalling to conceal the Administration's links with bankrupt energy giant Enron. But Cheney may be hiding more than that. Several other energy companies had opportunities to influence the Administration's energy policy, with both persuasion and money.

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A key task-force meeting, sources tell Time, was held by Cheney in the White House on May 3. Among attendees were two lobbyists for electric utilities: former Montana Governor and now G.O.P.chairman Marc Racicot and former G.O.P.chairman Haley Barbour. Two weeks later, Cheney's report gave the lobbyists much of what they wanted, including a re-evaluation of a costly clean-air rule, called the new-source review, which requires new pollution controls when power plants are expanded. While he was lobbying for these energy interests, Barbour was also raising at least $250,000 for a May 21 G.O.P.gala honoring President Bush. The group of utilities Barbour was representing, led by Southern Co., gave $150,000 to the event. The night before the gala, Cheney held a glitzy reception at the vice-presidential mansion for hundreds of the fete's sponsors and longtime party donors.

Another company that had entree to the Cheney task force was Peabody Energy, a coal behemoth whose holding company and top officer have given nearly $200,000 to the President and his party since Bush took office, including $25,000 for the May gala. Sources say Peabody chairman Irl Engelhardt and other energy executives met in March with two task-force members, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and Bush economic adviser Larry Lindsey. Cheney's group also heard in March from officials from the nuclear-energy industry—whose trade association, the Nuclear Energy Institute, contributed $100,000 to the Bush event. Both coal and nuclear power got major endorsements in the task-force report.

Racicot, who stopped lobbying after taking over the G.O.P.last month, said he didn't raise funds for the Bush bash. Barbour did not return calls for comment. Cheney spokeswoman Mary Matalin denied any link between task-force access and fund raising, saying the Veep had no idea who was financing the gala.