Washington Turning Its Back on Enron?

This article comes from the OUCH! series, a regular bulletin on how money in politics hurts you, written by the Public Campaign.

If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog, President Harry S. Truman once said. That would appear to be the case for the mighty Enron Corporation, which was once the seventh-largest company in America. Since December 2, when it declared bankruptcy, it has been embroiled in investigative hearings, lawsuits from disgruntled shareholders and employees whose pension funds turned to dust, and soon, criminal proceedings.

This after the company and its top executives gave $5.8 million in campaign contributions to both parties and their candidates over the last 12 years, almost half of that in the last election cycle when the company was flying high. Enron CEO Kenneth Lay is a close friend of the Bush family -- having slept in the Lincoln Bedroom during the presidency of George Bush Sr., been a top contributor to both of W.'s gubernatorial campaigns, and serving as a "Pioneer" dedicated to raising at least $100,000 for his 2000 presidential bid.

Lay and his wife also donated $100,000 to the Bush Inaugural committee, and he and his top staff exerted significant influence on the administration's energy policy and appointments. Lay and Bush are so close that the President's nickname for him is "Kenny Boy." However, now it would appear that "Kenny Boy" is on his own.

"I have had no contact with Enron officials in the last six weeks," Bush told reporters on December 28.

But, in fact, President Bush is still looking out for his friends at Enron, along with many of his other corporate benefactors. Since December 29, President Bush has devoted both of his weekly radio addresses, as well as two speeches on the West Coast and a White House photo opportunity, to urge that the Senate take up and pass the "compromise" economic stimulus bill adopted by the House just before the Christmas recess. That's a lot of presidential face time to give to any issue.

Here is what Citizens for Tax Justice has to say about the new House bill: it's "almost identical" to the original legislation passed in October. The new bill focuses on delivering $202 billion in tax cuts to corporations and wealthy individuals over the next three years, a whole five percent less than the original. As for the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), despite press reports that the House would drop its unpopular effort to eliminate the tax and give companies $25 billion in rebate checks for the AMT they have paid going back 15 years, the new bill repeals two-thirds of the tax and delivers close to $16 billion in rebates, just spread out over a greater period.

That's how Enron stands to win if the latest House bill passes the Senate. Bob McIntyre, director of Citizens for Tax Justice, tells us that, "Enron was slated to receive an instant tax rebate of $254 million from just one provision of the original House "stimulus" plan," -- the AMT repeal -- "and potentially even more from other provisions of the bill. The slightly revised House bill would probably be only a little less generous to Enron."

The president's economic plan has been criticized by many for not living up to its "economic stimulus" name. Indeed, giving $250 million dollars to a bankrupt company under the cloud of multiple investigations and lawsuits that will never hire another employee or make another investment certainly seems like a peculiar approach to pulling a country out of a recession. But, then, lots of what Congress and the President have done since September 11 and since the recession began has been about what's best for those who have contributed the most to campaign coffers, not what's best for the country.

If this makes you angry, it's not too late to tell your representatives how you feel. Go to HowDareThey.org and send them a fresh message about putting public priorities before special interest profiteering.

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