Lifestyles Left and Right

Who Says Insiders Can’t Be Saints?

To listen to some Democrats, they're essentially accusing Bush Republicans of favoring corporate donors exactly the way Democrats have for years.

2.17.02

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At age 80, Ernest "Fritz" Hollings is South Carolina's junior senator. Lately, he has been trying to help his Democratic colleagues by giving them what he thinks is a catchy phrase with which to beat up the Bush administration. His line is that this is a "cash-and-carry" administration. The implication is that Enron paid and the Bush people delivered. He first intoned this slogan while doing his impersonation of an outraged citizen. (He may be a junior senator, but he understands how things work on Capitol Hill. Between 1996 and 2000 he took $1.2 million in PAC contributions.)

Enron contributions to Bush's campaign seem to have produced only a flat turn-down of support for the flawed Kyoto treaty which Enron saw as a potential source of riches for its traders.

Things were a little different in the Clinton years. Then, it was a matter of you give us the cash; we'll carry your water. During those eight years Enron had seats on four Department of Energy and seven Department of Commerce overseas trade missions. It was well known in those days that non-contributors to the Democratic Party need not apply.

Over an 18-month period in 1995 and '96, Clinton administration officials helped Enron close a $3 billion power plant deal in India. Just four days before India gave the final green light, Enron made a $100,000 contribution to the Democratic National Committee. It was, of course, a mere coincidence. Of course.

Enron was ecumenical when it came to politics, quite naturally putting its money where it thought its self-interest lay at any given time. More recently it tilted toward Republicans -- with nothing to show for it. In the Clinton years, it was the Democrats. Between 1990 and 2000, the DNC received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Enron sources.

Clinton administration officials beavered away for Enron. National Security Adviser Anthony Lake stalled an aid package to Mozambique until that country approved an Enron pipeline project. Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson went to Nigeria to help arrange for a joint energy development project that resulted in $882 millions' worth of power contracts for Enron.

Democrat Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, now chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, in 2000 received $23,374 from Enron and its auditing firm, Arthur Andersen, which, to a borrow phrase from the elder George Bush, is now in deep doo-doo.

Global Crossing, the fiber optics telecommunications company that just tanked, had similar experiences. In 1997, its altruistic CEO, Gary Winnick, offered Clinton insider Terry McAuliffe company stock before it soared. McAuliffe's $100,000 investment turned into $18 million after the company went public. Later, McAuliffe arranged for Winnick to play golf with Clinton. Just a little tête-à-tête among friends. That's all.

In 1999 Global Crossing hired Senator Bingaman's wife, a lobbyist, to help it thwart an effort by its competitors to lay a cable between the U.S. and Japan. The senator's financial disclosure report for 2000 shows that his wife made a capital gain of over $1 million on the sale of Global Crossing stock. She probably kept it a secret from him until he had to file the report, lest her good fortune affect his voting.

Recently, the high-minded Mr. McAuliffe, now chairman of the DNC, told CNN about Enron: "...the wealthy special interests got to take their money off the table and that's what we need to investigate." Over at Global Crossing last May, his pal Winnick took a lot of money off the table -- several hundred million dollars worth of sold stock -- as the company's fortunes were declining. In late June, according to Roy Olafson, the company official who blew the whistle on its odd accounting practices, Global's chief financial officer delayed telling shareholders that the company's outlook was grim for the balance of the year, lest they think Mr. Winnick had been using his insider's knowledge to profit from impending bad news. No doubt Mr. McAuliffe, with his keen interest in good government, will insist the Democrat-controlled Senate investigate Global Crossing, its creative bookkeeping and its with-it auditors, the same Arthur Andersen who worked for Enron. No doubt.

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