Several years later, when George W. became governor of Texas, Lay asked him to receive visiting dignitaries from places Enron hoped to do business with, and by the time Bush got to the White House, Enron was his biggest contributor. Former Enron officials, advisers and consultants wound up getting several dozen positions in the new Administration, including White House economic adviser, Secretary of the Army and US Trade Representative. These were important to Enron on issues ranging from energy policy to its ambition to open up foreign markets by bringing exports of energy and water services under the WTO trade framework.
Had Bush tried to bail out Enron in November or December of 2001, his personal and dynastic ties to the company would have come under intense scrutiny. Without that bailout, most of the Washington press corps has been content to leave alone the much larger story--the apparent seventeen-year connection between the Bush dynasty and Enron.
Even without such information, it seems clear, counting campaign contributions, consultancies, joint investments, deals, presidential library and inaugural contributions, speech fees and the like, that the Bush family and entourage collected some $8 million to $10 million from Enron over the years, which is more than changed hands in Harding's Teapot Dome scandal. Depending on some still-unclear relationships, it could be as high as $25 million.
Obviously, this sort of dynastic financial outreach is not confined to Republicans. When Bill Clinton left the White House in a glare of unfavorable publicity over his last-minute pardons, especially that of fugitive financier Marc Rich, some of the focus was on money paid to or arrangements made by his wife's two brothers. Nor is it confined to Presidents. Texas Senator Phil Gramm and his wife, Wendy, got themselves referred to in Barron's Financial Weekly as "Mr. and Mrs. Enron" for his legislative work on the company's behalf at the same time that she was taking home money and company stock as an Enron director.
Because the dynastic aspect of American wealth and politics has been growing much faster than public (and press) appreciation of its ballooning significance, much of this record has received little attention. The neglect, however, is something that American democracy cannot afford. If Americans still believe in what Franklin Roosevelt said back in 1935 about the unacceptability of inherited wealth and power--and frankly, even if few have thought about it--a whole new political, ethical and economic agenda calls out for immediate and vocal embrace.
It's easy to limn broad outlines--further reform of campaign finance (perhaps including a constitutional amendment), federal tax changes, maintenance of the federal inheritance tax (certainly on estates over $3 million or so) and regulatory overhauls to curb the widespread corporate abuses pushed into the spotlight by Enron, Tyco and the accounting and brokerage firms. Still, a century ago, and then again in the early 1930s, the critical impetus for Americans' insistence on reform came from stock-market crashes and deep economic downturns. In 2002, we have had the first but not yet the second--and since 9/11, antiterrorism has been a rallying point, with patriotism offered to the electorate in lieu of economic concern.
As for economic and political dynastization, the United States is not the first republic to tilt in this direction. Rome did, and in the eighteenth century even the once proudly middle-class Dutch Republic let many of its offices become hereditary. Let's hope Americans do not also allow political and economic inheritance to displace democracy.