- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2002

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.
Mr. Lay and his cronies raised some $500,000 for Mr. 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 policy-makers. It 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 emissions.
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. Enron had high-priced talent directly on its roster, including Democrat Jack Quinn, Bill Clinton's former right-hand man, and powerful friends, such as former Treasury Secretary and prominent Democrat Robert Rubin.
Enron's ties to the Bush administration were even more impressive. Former Montana Gov. and current Republican National Committee Chairman Marc Racicot was a lobbyist for the energy corporation, top economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey had been a paid consultant as recently as 2000, and Mr. 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 task force.
But all the money and juice didn't translate into special assistance. As the company was on the verge of implosion in October, Mr. 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-finance reform.
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 seventh-largest company in America, Enron 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, acknowledged that there is no proof of any administration hanky-panky to help Enron. Mr. 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 Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Joe Lieberman, 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.

Joel Mowbray is a free-lance writer. E-mail: jdmowbra@ erols.com.

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