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Enron's Washington | The Nation

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Enron's Washington

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Editor's Note: This article was corrected on January 24.

It was a mistake--and a beaut--in Matt Bivens's piece "The Enron Box" where he confused the Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers. It is hereby duly acknowledged and regretted. But what really astonished us was the way it unleashed a slick triple play by the Right-Wing Conspirators (a Class C club that plays the Washington-New York corridor). You've heard of Tinker to Evers to Chance? Well, this was Wall Street Journal to The Weekly Standard to Fox News's Brit Hume. The WSJ caught Bivens's blooper; then The Weekly Standard grabbed amd waved it long enough to say "Nyah, nyah" before Brit (Mr. Inside) Hume gobbled up the ball and hinted darkly of cover-up (or something) on Fox News. This dazzling play illustrates how the opposing team will seize on a minor miscue and use it to clear George W. Bush of any involvement in the Enron scandal. OK, we admit the error shows we are sometimes sports-challenged; next time we'll check with a baseball expert like George Will. Lest the real issues be lost out in right field, however, we bring you a comment on Bush and baseball posted by the witty sportswriter Charles Pierce, a commentator on NPRs Only a Game and the author of Sports Guy: In Search of Corkball, Warroad Hockey, Hooters Golf, Tiger Woods, and the Big, Big Game. He posted it on Jim Romenesko's Media News (www.poynter.org):

"As to The Nation's unfortunate collision with the national pastime--the passage ought to read:

'When George Bush co-owned the Texas Rangers with a bunch of businessmen who had all the real money, construction began on The Ballpark At Arlington, after the ownership group finagled the eminent domain laws in order to swindle some property owners out of the market price for some valuable land. The property owners sued and won, but The Ballpark arose anyway, enabling Mr. Bush to cash out his original investment several times over without ever having done any actual work. This helped launch the successful portion of his political career, culminating in his becoming President of the United States, a job from which he took an evening off last spring in order to be the guest of Kenneth Lay for the opening of Enron Field in Houston. Mr. Lay was CEO of Enron and a well-known political supporter of the president who, these days, of course, would not recognize him from a box of turnips.'
"The Nation, I am sure, regrets the error."

Indeed we do.

About the Author

Matt Bivens
Matt Bivens has covered energy, environmental and nuclear issues for www.thenation.com and a range of other...

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When George W. Bush was running for President, he made use of the Enron corporate jet fourteen times. His campaign reimbursed Enron almost $60,000 for those flights. All told, Enron and its employees have contributed at least $736,800 to our President's political career--more than any other corporation. That includes the $10,000 that Enron chairman Kenneth Lay and his wife Linda donated to the Bush-Cheney 2000 Recount Fund, as well as the $300,000 that Enron leaders spent on the Bush-Cheney post-recount-crushing inaugural party. (But it does not include money given at one remove--say, to the Republican National Committee during Bush's presidential run.)

Many in the Bush White House have had some sort of relationship with Enron--either as former company employees, as recipients of Enron campaign contributions or simply as enthusiastic purchasers of the company's stock. White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey and trade proselytizer Robert Zoellick each earned $50,000 a year as Enron advisers. Secretary of the Army Thomas White Jr., a former Enron executive, had to sell $25 million of Enron stock upon assuming his post. Enron's Lay--as candidate George Bush's most-deep-pocketed patron--has a good relationship with Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, whose previous job was as the Bush-Cheney campaign's tapper-of-deep-pockets. Attorney General John Ashcroft has received $57,499 from Enron in contributions to his 2000 senate campaign, which is why he has recused himself from investigating.

Two reports just released by the Center for Public Integrity--both based on the nonprofit nonpartisan center's studies of the finances and affiliations of the top 100 officials in the Bush Administration--offer added context. Looking just at Enron, the center's study turned up fourteen executive branch officials who owned stock in Enron, collectively valued when disclosed at from $284,000 to $886,000 (the spread is so broad because officials report income in approximate ranges). One of the largest Enron stock holdings--ranging from $100,001 to $250,000 in value at the time of filing--was in the hands of Karl Rove, a prominent adviser who has been close to Bush since his Texas days. More broadly, the center's study found this to be one of the richest and most corporate presidential Administrations in history. The average net worth of the President, Vice President and the Cabinet falls between $9.3 million and $27.3 million--nearly ten times the average net worth of the Clinton Administration lineup. And not for nothing do they call it Grand Ole Petroleum: The 100 top Administration officials have the vast majority of their financial holdings invested in the energy sector, some 221 separate investments worth up to $144.6 million. Meanwhile, corporate energy gave 75 percent of its $48.3 million in 1999-2000 campaign contributions to Republicans. Oil and gas gave $13 to candidate Bush for every $1 it gave candidate Gore.

Enron has also sprinkled campaign contributions across nearly three-fourths of the Senate and nearly half of the House. Of the $5.8 million Enron has given to campaigns in the past decade, 73 percent of it went to Republicans. Among the biggest winners in the Senate have been the Texas Republican Senators Phil Gramm ($97,350) and Kay Bailey Hutchinson ($99,500). The Gramms also gained personally because Wendy Gramm, Phil's wife, was hired to the Enron board. With just six days left in her tenure as chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Gramm rammed through a surprising decision that Enron had asked her for: a surrender of the commission's authority over regulating Enron's energy futures contracts. Five weeks later, after leaving the commission, Gramm was working for Enron.

In the House, Enron has also favored Texas Republicans, notably majority whip Tom DeLay. In addition to the $28,900 Enron or its executives has contributed directly to DeLay's career, the company has hired as lobbyists Ed Buckham, who is DeLay's former chief of staff, and Karl Gallant, the former director of Americans for a Republican Majority, DeLay's political action committee. Today Gallant also runs the Republican Majority Issues Committee, another DeLay-tied fundraising vehicle, and since 1995, Enron and its executives have given these DeLay-friendly organizations nearly $133,000.

And then there is the special case of Marc Racicot, who until three weeks ago was a registered lobbyist for Enron. Racicot is now the national chairman of the Republican Party, and not so long ago he was saying he intended to continue working as a lobbyist while running the party. Certainly, the two posts seem almost indistinguishable. But that was perhaps too open an admission. So Racicot has cleared things up by explaining he won't actively lobby--but he will still get his lobbyist's six-figure paycheck while the GOP pays him $1 a year. Which makes things much clearer.

Then again... Ken Lay played golf with Bill Clinton, and according to a 1997 Time magazine article, Clinton took a personal interest in Enron's efforts to build a $3 billion power plant in India--a project the Clinton-era US Export-Import Bank loaned $302 million toward.

Dick Cheney may or may not have bunkered down in an undisclosed secure location with Lay to design the President's National Energy Plan--but it was Clinton and Al Gore who received Lay and seven other energy executives at the White House to talk about the Kyoto treaty. Enron was elated by that treaty because the company, which specializes in trading esoteric goods, was excited about trading pollution credits around the world. But Bush killed that as a potential business. (Bush's career total of $736,800 from Enron is still less than the $2.9 million he received from all energy companies combined in 1999-2000.) Enron gave the big bucks to Bush, Gramm and DeLay, and could be relied upon to sprinkle cash across Republicans at the state level, including $1,500 from the Lays and former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling for Florida's Jeb Bush (and $1,000 from corporate headquarters for Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris--remember her?). But Enron also gave $13,750 to presidential candidate Al Gore, and similarly symbolic sums to other leading Democrats: $1,000 for Ted Kennedy, $950 for Hillary Clinton, $6,000 for Tom Daschle. Even the Straight-Talk Express himself, John McCain, picked up a few thou.

Enron has been giving money to politicians ever since George Bush Sr. was President back in the 1980s, when in return for at least $13,000 (records from 1988 are still being studied), the White House had Lay over for, yes, a sleepover. Now Enron is suddenly embarrassing, so all are backpedaling and pointing fingers. The National Republican Senatorial Committee returns a $100,000 check to Enron, and the Republican Governor's Association returns $60,000, but when it comes to one-upmanship in ethically challenged Washington, the best the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee can do is announce it's not returning its $100,000 Enron check because the company doesn't deserve it, and instead is looking for a suitable charity to send it to. A suggestion: Give it to a watchdog outfit that tracks campaign spending, like the Center for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.org), the Center for Public Integrity (www.publicintegrity.org) or the National Institute on Money in State Politics (www.followthemoney.org); or to a more activist campaign-finance-reform outfit like Public Campaign (www.publiccampaign.org).

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