Well, maybe. But a report released Friday by the Center for Public Integrity shows that at the time of their filings, 14 out of the top 100 Bush officials owned stock in Enron, worth anywhere between $284,016 and $886,000. The White House is full of appointees who served on Enron boards, as Enron advisors and consultants and even as Enron executives. So to say that no one at Enron is a government official is a shade inaccurate: There are plenty of people who were at Enron who are government officials.
But then again, who doesn't have a conflict of interest in the Enron scandal? No less than 71 currently serving senators (including 29 Democrats) received campaign contributions from Enron. One hundred eighty-eight representatives (including 71 Democrats) fed at Enron's trough. There's been talk of the Senate Banking Committee opening an investigation. But guess what? Phil Gramm, R-Texas, is on that committee, and his wife, Wendy, is a member of Enron's advisory board.
The more you look at how comfortably in bed politicians from both parties are with Enron, the more you wonder at the incongruity of Enron being considered an emblem of "deregulation" -- a cause that's ostensibly dedicated to keeping the affairs of business separate from those of government. Sure, Ken Lay talked a good game, particularly when the subject was California's "flawed" electricity deregulation plan. But as Peter Van Doren, editor of the Cato Institute's Regulation Magazine, notes, "The characterization of Enron being very much in favor of deregulation is incorrect."
"They are a company that got lots of its profits through gains that are politically created," says Doren. "They wanted restrictions on CO2 emissions and they wanted intervention on the electricity side. ... They were a very politicized firm."
And that gets right to the heart of the matter. There's a fundamental problem with a political system in which what gets deregulated and what doesn't is determined by politicians whose campaigns are largely funded by the companies who benefit from how regulations are enforced, applied and created. That's the opposite of both free-market and democratic principles.
Proponents of campaign finance reform have long decried the influence of money in politics. If there is a silver lining in the Enron debacle, it could be this: The disaster may finally be big enough to give reform the political backing it needs to pass.
There's nothing particularly new in a company attempting to influence legislation for its own purposes, nor is there anything new in a company fiddling with its numbers to boost its profits. What's so special about Enron and Bush is that, together, they managed to raise the art of government-business cooperation to a pinnacle so high that no one, no matter how blindered, can ignore it.
The preceeding was from a piece by Andrew Leonard, published 1/12/2002.
The following is from Anthony York's report on the same subject, likewise published 1/12/2002.
"But while the company has given extensively to both parties, its money has overwhelmingly gone to Republicans. Overall, 73 percent of all Enron's political giving has gone to Republicans, according to CRP [Center for Responsive Politics] reports."