Jewish World Review Jan. 16, 2002/ 3 Shevat 5762


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Let the Dems investigate -- WE'LL examine corruption in the public and private sector this week. n Inevitably, the first topic is Enron. I don't blame Democrats one iota for attempting to parlay the company's bankruptcy into political gain.

One, it's payback for all the investigations during Bill Clinton's "most ethical administration in history"; two, with George W. Bush's approval ratings (about 85 percent, depending on the poll) breaking records every week for longevity, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's disastrous presidential-tryout speech on Jan. 4 and midterm elections that at this point don't appear to give either party a decisive edge, Democratic strategists and their cocktail-hour buddies in the media need to gin up some controversy.

It's only politics, and almost everyone inside the Beltway loves it.

Reporters and pundits, weary from studying the rudiments of military jargon and consulting maps of the world to describe the war on terrorism, now gleefully embark on a subject most are equally ignorant about: finance. No matter, Enron-and its executives-was a generous contributor to Bush's gubernatorial and presidential campaigns, and that's all that counts. I suspect that once the myriad congressional investigations are completed (and you can bet they'll drag on till November) there will be at least one or two sacrificial lambs from the Bush administration who'll be out of a job.

DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe, who knows he won't snare Bush himself, would cream in his pressed jeans if Commerce Secretary Don Evans or Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill were forced to walk the plank, but that appears unlikely. Both received calls from Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay for intervention into the company's inevitable demise, but they refused. His Excellency Robert Rubin, one of the few Clinton Cabinet members who emerged unscathed from that Harding-like administration (no offense to Warren G.), has fallen a notch from the media pantheon for his own call to Peter Fisher, treasury undersecretary, last fall. Rubin, now a bigwig at Citigroup, one of Enron's chief creditors, sought help from the current administration but was rebuffed.

In fact, the Bush team's refusal to help Enron is a solid argument against campaign finance "reform," an example of powerful GOP officials refusing to allow several million dollars of contributions to influence monetary decisions, but don't expect that point to be made in the press. What did Enron receive for its spreading around of campaign loot? The back of President Bush's hand.


Attorney General John Ashcroft, naturally, is a target, because he received $57,499 from Enron for his failed Senate reelection bid in Missouri in 2000 (the loss invariably described as one to a "dead man," referring to Mel Carnahan, who was killed just weeks before the tightly contested contest). Ashcroft, unlike his notoriously corrupt predecessor Janet Reno, recused himself from prosecuting the Enron case. That was a proper call-and one not matched by many Democrats who sit on Enron-related investigations and who also received funds from the company, like Sens. Joe Lieberman ($10,000 for the New Democrat Network he founded) and Jeff Bingaman ($14,124)-but he's being pilloried in the media just the same. That's what happens when you're a Confederate sympathizer and leader of America's Taliban Right-Wing, as Democrat consultants irresponsibly label Republican-leaning Christians.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) also collected $21,933 from Enron, but he told CNN's Late Edition on Sunday that that won't have any effect on his work in ferreting out the company's bad guys. (And obviously, the accounting firm Arthur Andersen is in scalding hot water.) Referring to a bill Enron supported two years ago that opposed government regulation of commodities markets, Schumer said, rather grandly: "I led the charge against them. So, I think there's proof positive that when they're wrong, I'm going to oppose them rather dramatically."

(A brief digression. Except for The New York Times, which for some reason has a messianic interest in seeing Sen. Robert Torricelli indicted, other newspapers have made little noise about Sen. Harry Reid, who contributed a small amount of cash to Torricelli's legal defense fund, not recusing himself from the Senate ethics inquiry into the Jersey pol's conduct during his '96 election.

(The Times, disgusted by outgoing U.S. prosecutor Mary Jo White's action to green-light The Torch, editorialized on Jan. 5: "Ms. White's decision has punted the matter to the bipartisan Senate ethics panel. Judging by the preliminary noises from Capitol Hill, the committee can be expected to be even more reluctant than usual to take action against one of its own, especially while Mr. Torricelli campaigns for re-election and the Democrats are struggling to hold their single-seat Senate majority. But the allegations against Mr. Torricelli are serious and cry out for prompt investigation and resolution in a manner worthy of public respect. If the committee will not provide it, it might as well disband."

(I'm still of the opinion that the Times' jihad against Torricelli, who's just as sleazy as former Sen. Al D'Amato, is based on his flashy wardrobe and dating habits. Unlike other Americans of Italian descent, Torricelli hasn't played by Times rules: tamp down the ethnicity, wear banker's clothing and keep your mouth shut. No skin off my nose-I can't wait for the paper to endorse his GOP rival this fall-but it's just plain weird.)

Reporters are all over the map in describing the extent of Lay's and Enron's role in Bush's presidential bid. Some give the impression that the now-disgraced company was the President's sole donor; in reality, Enron's $500,000 or so represents a tiny fraction of the approximately $100 million Bush raised for his campaign. Also lost in the shuffle is the fact that a Texas-based enterprise would donate heavily to its home-state governor; just as Texan Democrats Ken Bentsen (currently running for Phil Gramm's seat in the Senate) and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee received $42,750 and $38,000, respectively, from Enron. And although approximately 75 percent of Enron's political money went to Republicans, Democrats like Bill Clinton (who golfed with Lay), former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, Tom Daschle, Rep. John Dingell, Florida Sens. Bob Graham and Bill Nelson and Al Gore were also financial recipients.

In addition, as David Brooks writes in this week's Weekly Standard: "On July 5, 1995 Enron Corporation donated $100,000 to the Democratic National Committee. Six days later, Enron executives were on a trade mission with Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor to Bosnia and Croatia. With Kantor's support, Enron signed a $100 million contract to build a 150-megawatt power plant." Needless to say, the late Ron Brown, Kantor's predecessor, was cozy with Enron as well, as Brooks' article points out. In addition, Mack McLarty, Clinton's onetime chief of staff, who helped the company win a $3 billion power-plant loan in India in the mid-90s, later became a paid adviser to Enron.

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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