WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?
By Sharon Smith | February 22, 2002 | Page 7
IF THE congressional committees investigating Enron really want to get to the bottom of the scandal, they could begin by hauling in George W. Bush to testify. The entire Bush dynasty has been up to its eyeballs in Enron money and influence since Enron was formed in a merger in the mid-1980s.
The first Bush administration laid the basis for Enron's astronomical growth in the last decade with the 1992 Energy Policy Act, which opened the way for states to require utility companies to buy electricity from power traders like Enron.
Bush's Commodity Futures Trading Commission, chaired by Wendy Gramm, wife of Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas), created a narrow legal exemption that allowed Enron to begin lucrative trading in energy derivatives.
The mutual back-scratching continued after Bush Sr. left the White House in 1993, when Wendy Gramm joined Enron's board of directors.
Bush Jr. has claimed that he didn't "get to know" the man he calls "Kenny Boy" until 1994--yet as early as 1988, he pressured the Argentine government to accept an Enron oil pipeline proposal. As president, George W. catered to Enron's every whim.
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Curtis Hébert Jr. lost his job shortly after a telephone conversation with Kenneth Lay, who felt that Hébert was not moving fast enough to open up access to electricity to Enron. Lay admitted his unhappiness with Hébert, but made it clear that "the final decision on [Hébert's job] was going to be the president's, certainly not ours." Bush quickly replaced Hébert with Lay's choice, Texan Pat Wood, to head the government body charged with overseeing Enron and other energy companies.
Enron came to Bush's rescue last August when Bush, bending to the anti-abortion lobby, announced his stem cell "compromise," which most of the medical establishment regarded as an enormous step backward. "But miraculously, the administration was able to produce an instant endorsement from John Mendelsohn of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston--who we now know is an Enron board member whose institution received $600,000 in Enron lucre," reported New York Times columnist Frank Rich.
Even Bush's "economic stimulus" plan, devised when Enron was already in financial free fall, included a $254 million tax rebate for Enron--even though Enron had managed to avoid paying any income taxes at all in four of the last five years, and even received $382 million in government refunds.
Every energy-related policy to emanate from the Bush administration in the last year has read like an Enron wish list--from opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration to Bush's unilateral withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol on curbing global warming.
The administration's energy plan, devised by Dick Cheney under a cloak of secrecy, includes no fewer than 17 policies that were either advocated by or directly benefited Enron. As Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Scheer noted, "Oddly, given that Republicans are presumed to favor leaving power with the states, the Bush energy plan emphasized increased power over utility pipelines that forced local utilities to carry Enron's product."
Congress is unlikely to call past and present leaders of Bush administrations to answer for their many transgressions, however. To do so would only shed light on the complicity of Congress' own members, Democrat and Republican alike, in Enron's dirty dealings over the years.
All but five of the 56 members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee now investigating Enron received campaign contributions from Enron or its auditor, Arthur Andersen--or both.
The bosses got their money's worth. The politicians now expressing "outrage" over shredded documents by Arthur Andersen and insider trading at Enron banded together as recently as 2000 to defeat legislation that would have outlawed the practice of accounting firms acting as both auditors and consultants to their corporate clients, as Andersen did with Enron.
If Congress is sincere about uncovering the breadth of the Enron scandal, they need look no further than the mirror.