Tags: Feeding | Frenzy

Feeding Frenzy

Friday, 18 January 2002 12:00 AM

The frenzy began in earnest in early January. Bill Press, the liberal side of CNN's "Crossfire," smiled like a possum at a birthday party as he likened the emerging Enron scandal to Bill Clinton's Whitewater Affair. Gleeful Democrats even began calling it "the First George W. Bush Scandal."

This implies two things: first, that there will be more Bush scandals, and second that Democrats have been desperately searching for one.

Of course, good scandals are hard to come by. Clinton's were so juicy because they involved greed, sex, selling information to our enemies – even an on-staff suicide.

Whitewater, the Clinton affair most compared to Enron, ended up being the least of Mr. Clinton's worries. Why? – because it was a complicated financial deal that few Americans understood, and even fewer took the time to research.

If the Democrats are to make the Enron debacle stick to President Bush, or Vice President Cheney, they are going to have to accomplish three things:

First, they will have to explain the scandal in terms that the average sitcom viewer can understand. Even though it's an extremely complex story of an asset company transforming itself into a commodities-trading company and using shady partnerships to hide declining profits, this may be the easiest part.

The Democrats can simply say that Enron used money to buy influence in Washington, used the influence to get the deregulation it wanted, and then drained its stockholders dry when business went sour.

Second, they will have to prove that high-level officials within the administration gave special treatment to Enron. This will be harder to prove. We know that Enron officials met with Vice President Cheney, and that they called Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Commerce Secretary Donald Evans.

Calls to the two Cabinet secretaries from Enron CEO Kenneth Lay were apparently to ask for help – but did he get that help? So far, there is no evidence that he did.

The third thing the Democrats will have to do may be the toughest. In order to make this a "Bush scandal," they will have to show that Enron influenced only the administration and other Republicans. Indeed, by the time he took office, the president had accepted more that $550,000 from Enron and its executives. But Enron was an equal opportunity donor.

Figures published by the nonpartisan "Center for Responsive Politics" shows that practically everybody in the U.S. Senate received Enron money between 1989 and 2001. Being from Texas was helpful, as Kay Bailey Hutchison took top honors with $99,500 and Phil Gramm was second at $97,350.

But a Democrat, Charles Schumer of New York, came in fourth with $21,933. "Dr. No" himself, Tom Daschle, got $6,000. Even Hillary Rodham Clinton was favored with the paltry sum of $950.

On the House side, it paid to be a Texan and a Democrat. Enron's top 10 included six Democrats and seven Texans: $42,750 went to Democrat Ken Bentsen, now seeking to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate, left-leaning Sheila Jackson Lee got $38,000, and Republicans Joe Barton and Tom DeLay got $28,900 each. Democrats were in the fifth, sixth and seventh places – Martin Frost with $24,250, Charles Stenholm with $14,439 and Chet Edwards of Waco reeling in $10,000.

Just about every famous name in Washington – House or Senate – appears on the list. The best question to ask might be who DIDN'T accept money from Enron.

Enron, of course, wanted deregulation in energy markets. It not only made massive political contributions, but it also hired dozens of high-priced Washington lobbyists. Investigators will have to decide whether all that money and all those lobbyists combined to form bribery.

If so, then watch out! Bribery is a crime that takes two to tango. Someone must offer the bribe, and someone must be willing to take it.

Almost everyone agrees that there is wrongdoing. There is at the very least a corporate scandal. There's little doubt that some Enron executives are in for a rough time. Enron's auditing firm, Arthur Andersen, which has admitted to destroying documents, may be in for the fight of its corporate life.

But as a full-fledged political scandal, Enron may not be worth the feeding frenzy now coming from the left side of the aisle. The Democrats may be involved just as deeply as the Republicans.

Lynn Woolley's e-mail address is

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The frenzy began in earnest in early January.Bill Press, the liberal side of CNN's Crossfire, smiled like a possum at a birthday party as he likened the emerging Enron scandal to Bill Clinton's Whitewater Affair.Gleeful Democrats even began calling it the First George...
Friday, 18 January 2002 12:00 AM
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