The Senate Ethics Committee has dismissed a watchdog group's allegation that Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (search), R-Ala., violated ethics rules. A letter from the panel said the complaint "lacks substantial merit."

The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (search), a group that primarily has targeted Republicans, charged that Shelby granted legislative favors to Westar Energy Inc. (search) of Topeka, Kan., in exchange for some $15,000 for the House campaign of Tom Young, his former chief of staff. Young lost his Republican primary bid in 2002 to Rep. Jo Bonner.

Melanie Sloan, the group's executive director, on Wednesday released a copy of an Oct. 1 letter in which the Ethics Committee notified her the charges would be dropped.

"Based on all the information before it, the committee has determined that your complaint lacks substantial merit," wrote Robert L. Walker, the committee's chief counsel and staff director.

Walker declined to comment on why that decision was reached.

Shelby's spokeswoman, Virginia Davis, said the senator learned in October the charges had been dismissed and wasn't surprised. In a statement, she called them "baseless and without merit and clearly generated by a political organization with political motivations."

It was not immediately clear why Shelby's office waited so long to comment on the committee's finding.

The Alabama State Bar also looked into the allegation and dismissed it last summer.

Last year, Westar sought exemption from certain regulations as part of an energy bill being debated in Congress. The exemption could have helped the company save billions of dollars.

Internal Westar e-mails outlined a plan for making campaign donations to certain congressional Republicans "to get a seat at the table" of a House-Senate conference committee considering the exemption.

The e-mails referred to donations to "a group of candidates associated with," among others, Shelby and Louisiana Republican Billy Tauzin, who chairs the House Energy Committee. The e-mails said Tauzin and Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, requested a donation for another House Republican "in lieu of contributions made to their own campaigns."

The three have denied any improprieties.

In a July letter to the Alabama State Bar, Shelby pointed out he opposed the exemption Westar was seeking and wasn't even aware of the company's efforts to win his approval. Barton was able to get the provision attached to the energy bill, but it was dropped when word spread that there was a federal investigation. Shelby never introduced the legislation in the Senate.