On Native Ground
THE REAL ENRON SCANDAL
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The Enron debacle is finally on the news media's radar. The proximity of the Bush Administration to a company that collapsed in the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history does raise plenty ofsuspicions, and rightly so.
Enron's CEO, Kenneth Lay, has been President George W. Bush's top political patron. According to the Center for Public Integrity, Lay and his company gave the man who would be president a total of $623,000 for his 1994 and 1998 gubernatorial campaigns in Texas and his 2000 presidential campaign. And despite the President's recent absurd claim that Lay opposed him in his 1994 campaign, Lay has been a reliable source of campaign money for the members of the Bush family since the 1970s.
Lay and Enron have showered millions on other Republicanpoliticians. Despite the GOP camp followers' attempts to make this abipartisan scandal, Enron gave 73 percent of its $5.8 million in campaigncontributions to Republican candidates from 1989 to 2001, again accordingto the Center for Public Integrity.
So what were some of the things Enron got for its money?
None of these things are illegal, but they certainly aren't proper.But they are prime examples of how the political game is played in America-- give enough money to the right people and you will get what you want.
But there are bigger outrages as one digs deeper into the Enron mess - such as the Enron brass selling off $1.1 billion of their owncompany's stock while their employees were forced to hang on to it untilEnron finally imploded. There are at least 47 class-action suits againstEnron and its executives and directors filed by shareholders and former employees. Enron's workers had 62 percent of their 401(k) savings tied up in Enron stock.
Did the Enron execs know when they dumped their stock that thecompany had more than $600 million in debt off the books and that profits had been overstated for years? We don't know for sure. We do know that Layand his associates called up Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Commerce Secretary Donald Evans last fall to give them a heads-up that the world's biggest energy trader was about to go bankrupt.
While President Bush and his staff apparently had no direct dealings with Enron when the worst of the rip-off went down, neither didthey step in to preserve the life savings of thousands of Enron employeeswho lost everything while their bosses cashed out.
Again, the President and his associates did nothing illegal here. But to be so closely associated with a company that lied about its profits, misled its investors and employees and allowed its top guys to profit amid an unprecedented financial collapse doesn't look good.
Both the Democrats and Republicans are furiously spinning the Enrondebacle for political gain. But this shouldn't become a scandal aboutwhether laws were broken and who broke them. The scandal should be aboutthe laws themselves.
If all this isn't enough to get Americans to demand real reforms toour political system, what is? Both the Democrats and Republicans arecompletely and totally beholden to big corporate money and spend aninordinate amount of time currying favor with fat cat donors to stay inpower. The Enron story is just the latest example of this.
A campaign finance reform bill has been stalled in the House sincelast summer, but supporters say it is only four signatures away fromgetting reconsidered on the floor. The Senate has already passed anidentical bill. President Bush and the GOP are dead-set against reform,namely because they benefit from keeping things as they are.
Any politician with brains should be lining up behind campaignfinance reform right now, if only to remove the taint of Enron fromthemselves. And if President Bush was smart, he and every member of hisstaff would come clean on every dealing of any kind they've had with Enronover the years to help keep the scandal-mongers at bay.
Sadly, I don't see neither happening. The bartering of cash forpolitical influence is what gets politicians elected and keeps them inoffice. As for the Bush team, the most pro-corporate cabinet in history,they think there's nothing wrong with the kind of influence Enron seems tohave had. Again, that's just how the game is played.
The politicians shouldn't be allowed to slide away clean from theEnron mess. If we let them get away with this, that will be the realscandal.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for morethan 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).