Vol. 22, No. 5,514 - The American Reporter - September 7, 2016

by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
Dummerston, Vt.
January 18, 2002
On Native Ground

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DUMMERSTON, Vt., Jan. 18, 2002 -- 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 of suspicions, 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 Republican politicians. Despite the GOP camp followers' attempts to make this a bipartisan scandal, Enron gave 73 percent of its $5.8 million in campaign contributions to Republican candidates from 1989 to 2001, again according to the Center for Public Integrity.

So what were some of the things Enron got for its money?

  • When President Bush was still governor of Texas, he deregulated that state's energy markets and lobbied on behalf of Enron to convince other states to follow Texas' lead.

  • Enron was allowed to price gouge Californians last winter when President Bush and the Republican Congress refused to impose federal price controls. This extended last winter's energy crisis and cost California up to $50 billion in extra energy costs.

  • Lay had at least six meetings with Vice President Dick Cheney or staff from the Vice President's energy task force, with the last meeting in October - coming just a week before Enron's announcement that it was reducing shareholder equity by $1.2 billion to cover company losses in its now infamous off-the-balance-sheet partnerships. Cheney has yet to release the minutes from any of his energy task force meetings, despite requests made by Congress. Needless to say, the national energy policy drafted by Vice President Cheney's group is pro-corporate, pro-deregulation and anti-conservation.

  • According to The New York Times, Lay allegedly told Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman Curtis Hebert, Jr., that he should be more cooperative and pro-deregulation if he wanted to keep his job. Hebert didn't see things Lay's way and he ended up being replaced by Pat Wood, a Texan more agreeable to Ken Lay.

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 own company's stock while their employees were forced to hang on to it until Enron finally imploded. There are at least 47 class-action suits against Enron 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 the company 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 Lay and 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 did they step in to preserve the life savings of thousands of Enron employees who 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 Enron debacle for political gain. But this shouldn't become a scandal about whether laws were broken and who broke them. The scandal should be about the laws themselves.

If all this isn't enough to get Americans to demand real reforms to our political system, what is? Both the Democrats and Republicans are completely and totally beholden to big corporate money and spend an inordinate amount of time currying favor with fat-cat donors to stay in power. The Enron story is just the latest example of this.

A campaign finance reform bill has been stalled in the House since last summer, but supporters say it is only four signatures away from getting reconsidered on the floor. The Senate has already passed an identical 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 campaign finance reform right now, if only to remove the taint of Enron from themselves. And if President Bush was smart, he and every member of his staff would come clean on every dealing of any kind they've had with Enron over the years to help keep the scandal-mongers at bay.

Sadly, I don't see neither happening. The bartering of cash for political influence is what gets politicians elected and keeps them in office. 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 to have had. Again, that's just how the game is played.

The politicians shouldn't be allowed to slide away clean from the Enron mess. If we let them get away with this, that will be the reals candal.

Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for morethan 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).

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