The man who paid many of the biggest bills for George Bush’s political ascent, Enron founder Kenneth Lay, has been found guilty of conspiracy and fraud almost five years after his dirty dealings created the greatest corporate scandal in what will be remembered as an era of corporate crime.
On the sixth day of deliberations following the conclusion of a long-delayed federal trial, a Houston jury found Lay guilty on six counts of fraud and conspiracy. In a separate decision, US District Judge Sim Lake ruled that Lay was guilty of four counts of fraud and making false statements.
The same jury that convicted Lay found Enron’s former chief executive, Jeffrey Skilling, guilty on 19 counts of fraud, conspiracy, making false statements and engaging in insider trading.
Lay, who President Bush affectionately referred to as “Kenny-boy” when the two forged an alliance in the 1990s to advance Bush’s political ambitions and Lay’s business prospects, contributed $122,500 to Bush’s gubernatorial campaigns in Texas. Lay would later explain to a PBS “Frontline” interviewer that, though he had worked closely with former Texas Governor Ann Richards, the Democrat incumbent who Bush challenged in 1994, he backed the Republican because “I was very close to George W.”
Needless to say, once Bush became governor, Lay got his phone calls returned. A report issued by Public Citizen in February, 2001, months before the Enron scandal broke, identified Lay as “a long-time Bush family friend and an architect of Bush’s policies on electricity deregulation, taxes and tort reform while Bush was Texas governor.”
No wonder Lay had Enron give $50,000 to pay for Bush’s second inaugural party in Austin in 1999 — a showcase event that was organized by Karl Rove and others to help the Texas governor step onto the national political stage.
After Bush gave Enron exactly what it wanted in 1999, by signing legislation that deregulated the state’s electrical markets, Lay knew he had found his candidate for president.
When Bush opened his campaign, Lay opened the cash spigots.
As a “Bush Pioneer” in the run-up to the 2000 presidential election, Lay was a key member of the Bush campaign’s fund-raising inner circle.Under Lay’s leadership, Enron ultimately gave Bush $550,025, making the corporation the Texan’s No. 1 career patron at the time the 2000 election campaign began, according to the Center for Public Integrity. Lay personally pumped almost $400,000 into Republican hard- and soft-money funds, while Enron slipped another $1.5 million into the GOP’s soft-money cesspool.
But that was just the beginning. Lay sent a letter to Enron executives urging them to contribute to Bush’s campaign. More than 100 of them — including Skilling, a major Bush giver since 1993, when he cut his first $5,000 check to GW’s gubernatorial campaign — did just that. Dozens of spouses wrote, including “homemaker” and frequent $10,000 donor Linda Lay, gave as well, making the Enron “family” a prime source of the money that gave Bush his early advantage over Republican rivals such as Arizona Senator John McCain.