- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2002

Those pushing for new campaign finance laws are closer to forcing a vote on a bill and they say Enron's donations to both parties before its collapse helps argue why the legislation is necessary.
"What Enron did do is it spent corporate treasury money, lots of it $1 million for Republicans and a half-million dollars for Democrats and the stockholders shouldn't have their dollars going to buy influence in Washington," said Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican and one of the chief House sponsors of limitations on campaign finances.
However, opponents argue that the case proves the opposite that all of Enron's contributions have not earned any influence.
Mr. Shays and other reform advocates want to eliminate "soft money," the lump-sum donations that companies and labor unions send to parties.
Reformers say soft money is used to circumvent rules governing "hard money," the traditional small-dollar contributions to federal campaigns.
Mr. Shays' bill languishes in the House while he and other backers try to secure 218 signatures a majority of the House on a petition to force a vote on the bill. The petition now has 214 signatures, with another member promising to be the 218th.
Enron's dealings may push other lawmakers to sign the petition when Congress reconvenes next week.
"It seems to me that this is a perfect time to limit the excessive influence money plays in Washington," Rep. Corrine Brown, Florida Democrat, said in a statement in which explained that she was considering signing the petition.
Mr. Shays said Enron is the most popular topic at community meetings he has attended in his district.
"Not only did more people want to talk about that issue than anything else, but they were angry about it," he said.
Still, no evidence suggests that Enron's money has bought favorable consideration from the administration or Congress.
"I think it's a lot of hoopla but not a whole lot of evidence," said Rep. Albert R. Wynn, Maryland Democrat and one of the chief sponsors of an alternative to Mr. Shays' bill that restricts but doesn't eliminate soft money.
"I see no evidence of favors or special attention that was given to Enron by political figures [that] would suggest that campaign contribution favors of any kind. What I seem to see is an absence of regulatory vigor by the regulators."
Further, any Enron taint would include some of the most notable backers of campaign-finance limits, including Sen. John McCain. The Arizona Republican was one of more than 70 senators receiving money from the corporation and its executives in his case $9,500 since 1989, including $2,500 in the 1999-2000 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Mr. McCain, who sponsored the Senate version of campaign finance reform along with Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, defended himself on CNN's "Larry King Live" last week, telling Mr. King he was not embarrassed by the contributions.
"They were thousand-dollar contributions and in keeping with McCain-Feingold," he said. "You're always going to have money in politics. What we're trying to do is put a lid on it with the return, frankly, to a ban on union contributions and corporate contributions" in soft money.
Mr. McCain was also a member of the Keating Five the group of senators who took contributions from savings and loan executive Charles Keating but were later part of the bid to craft the savings and loan bailout bill. Mr. McCain received a slap on the wrist for his involvement.

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