Enron Debacle Exposes Folly of Campaign Finance Re
1/22/2002 12:00:00 AM - Joel Mowbray
Despite claims by delusional Democrats that the unfolding Enron
debacle demonstrates the need for campaign finance reform, the
non-scandal actually shows just the opposite.
Enron shelled out campaign cash like Imelda Marcos on a shoe shopping
spree, yet early reports indicate that no one in the Bush Administration
so much as lifted a finger to help the energy giant.
If Democrats are seeking a situation where Enron doled out dough in
exchange for help garnering new business, why not look to India? Enron
was going through a long process to secure a $3 billion power plant in
New Delhi. The White House reached out to Enron Chairman Ken Lay and
played a welcome role in guiding the deal. Four days before the
contract closed, Enron donated $100,000.
But Democrats hungry for a scandal will not touch this hot potato-Bill
Clinton's White House, not George W. Bush's, extended the helping hand
and received the fat payout.
Lay and his cronies raised some half a million dollars for Bush's 2000
campaign and he personally kicked in $100,000 for the inaugural gala,
and he couldn't even get anyone in his fellow Texan's Administration to
make a lousy phone call.
That is not to say that Enron didn't have access to policymakers.
They did. Enron pushed for an assortment of policy changes, from
deregulation to reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. Yet Enron's cash
hardly had a pied piper effect: Republicans typically only backed those
goals that meshed well with GOP philosophy, and Democrats limited most
of their support to green endeavors, such as cutting greenhouse gas
Yet for all the attention focused on the extensive money trail,
Enron's influence extended much further than mere campaign cash. Though
the now-troubled company shelled out $1.7 million to various political
slush funds in 1999-2000, it paid a $2.1 million lobbying tab for just
2000. They had high-priced talent directly on their roster, including
Democrat Jack Quinn, Bill Clinton's former right-hand man, and powerful
friends, such as former Treasury Secretary and prominent Democrat Robert
Enron's ties to the Bush Administration were even more impressive.
Former Montana Governor and current Republican National Committee
Chairman Marc Racicot was a lobbyist for the energy corporation, top
economic advisor Lawrence Lindsey had been a paid consultant as recently
as 2000, and Lay was on a first-name basis with Vice President Dick
Cheney. Enron executives further enjoyed face time with the Vice
President's office, during six meetings last year as part of the energy
But all the money and juice didn't translate into special assistance.
As the company was on the verge of implosion in October, Lay made a
flurry of calls to several Administration officials. His attempts to
coax the White House to pressure credit rating agencies from downgrading
Enron were rebuffed.
To recap: Enron and its executives pony up millions in campaign cash,
hire high-flying and well-connected lobbyists, have almost unparalleled
access to the Administration, yet no one in the White House did a thing
to prevent the company's fall from grace. What's wrong with this
picture? Nothing, and that's precisely why we don't need campaign
It's hard to imagine a company better positioned to reap the rewards
that are supposedly derived from cash and well-heeled lobbyists. Yet it
seems that all Enron got was the ability to have Administration
officials hear their feeble cries for help. But it stands to reason
that as the 7th largest company in America, they would have gotten that
"favor" with or without playing the political money game.
Bridger McGaw, press secretary for the leader of the campaign finance
reform movement, Rep. Marty Meehan (D-MA), acknowledged that there is no
proof of any Administration hanky panky to help Enron. McGaw maintained
that it's because of the "perception" that the White House did something
wrong that we need campaign finance reform. But the only folks in
Washington driving that "perception" are bloodthirsty Democrats, many of
whom fed at the Enron trough themselves, and reporters desperately
seeking a scandal.
If the Democratic drumbeat for campaign finance reform continues
unabated, then Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT),
who are each chairing separate investigations, need to recuse themselves
from their inquiries, following the lead of Attorney General John
Ashcroft. If they don't, their hypocrisy could lead campaign finance
reform to suffer the same dreaded fate as Enron.