As evidence of the reach of Enron's political tentacles continues
to mount, the question in Washington may no longer be "Who had ties
to Enron?" but "Who didn't?"
Campaign-finance figures show that in recent years, the Houston-
based energy company poured money not only into the campaign coffers
of George W. Bush but also into those of many members of Congress.
While more than two-thirds of the company's donations have gone
to Republicans, a number of top Democrats have received Enron cash
as well - a fact that could complicate the party's efforts to
capitalize on the scandal in the 2002 elections.
So far, there's no indication that Enron called on any lawmakers
to intervene on its behalf in the days leading up to the bankruptcy.
But there is some evidence that Enron's interests were served on
a variety of other issues in the past - such as the White House's
energy plan and its
proposed repeal of the corporate alternative-minimum tax - both
of which have passed the House.
While this may be well within the bounds of the law, it's the
appearance of undue influence that could ultimately prove damaging -
a realization that has clearly struck lawmakers from both parties,
many of whom are hastening to return Enron's donations.
As a result, analysts say the real impact of the probes may be
less political than substantive - in that it may reinforce the push
for campaign-finance reform.
"What's coming through as a result of Enron is not necessarily
what the Democrats want," says Larry Sabato, a political scientist
at the University of Virginia. "The message that is coming through
is that they are all bought."
One challenge, some experts say, is that some of the people whose
campaigns have benefitted from Enron's largess are now tasked with
investigating the floundering giant and its Washington connections.
No fewer than eight congressional committees are already
investigating the debacle, with more likely to take up the issue in
coming weeks. Insiders say the investigation will focus on federal
oversight of energy trading markets, as well as accounting
The company prospered - and then plunged - largely outside the
view of federal regulators.
The probes will examine ties between Enron and the Bush
administration, key legislators, and others. Some critics, for
example, have questioned the actions of Wendy Gramm, the wife of
Texas Sen. Phil Gramm (R), one of the Senate's strongest advocates
of deregulation. Mrs. Gramm, as chairman of the Commodity Futures
Trading Commission, proposed a rule to exempt energy swaps from
The rule was subsequently adopted - after which she resigned to
join Enron's board of directors. Enron has contributed $233,000 to
Senator Gramm's campaign since 1996, according to the Center for
Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in