How Much for That GOP in the Window?

$5,951,570.

That's the amount that Enron and its executives paid for political influence between 1990 and 2002, according to the Federal Election Commission. Those millions were contributed to the campaigns of dozens of candidates, propelling them into office. Three-quarters of the money went to Republicans. That's $4,404,161.80 -- not an insignificant sum, especially considering that not all soft money contributions have been accounted for.

Republicans in Enron's home state of Texas have especially benefited from the company's support over the years. Even George W.'s rise to the Oval Office was brought to you in part by Enron. One has to ask, does Enron own the GOP?

One group of Texas Democrats believes so. Their Web site address says it all -- EnronOwnsTheGOP.com. The organization, called "Texas '02," launched the site as the Enron scandal started unfolding. It lists the amounts of cash given to prominent Texas politicians by Enron, and calls for Republicans to return the tainted funds.

Though some politicians have returned money, Texas Republicans have refused to do so and EnronOwnsTheGOP.com is garnering national attention for letting voters know about it. This has Republicans who are gearing up for elections very nervous and searching for ways to silence the Web site.

In mid-February the Texas GOP took offense to the site's design, which is based on TexasGOP.org, the party's official Web site. The parody is so similar to the original that, Texas Republicans claimed, it should be shut down on the grounds of trademark infringement.

The GOP's elephant is prominently displayed on the parody site superimposed by the Enron logo, or the "crooked E" as it is becoming known. And the top banner welcomes you with "The Republican Party of Texas ... Brought to you by Enron."

In a letter to Kelly Fero, the director of Texas '02, the GOP claimed that the parody was "clearly intended to imitate and mimic the RPT trademark symbol and Web site, and to create confusion and mislead the public."

Fero's lawyers fired back with a letter of their own. "Using a mark to ridicule what the mark stands for is the type of criticism that has traditionally been afforded both 'fair use' and constitutional protection," wrote attorney Doug Ray, "If you pursue this matter, please be assured that your actions will be met with a vigorous response."

A week later, Texas GOP softened and instead filed a complaint with the state ethics committee. The complaint will hardly put a dent in the site's operation. And the backpedaling comes a little late, as news coverage of the scuffle has picked up, a fate the GOP could have avoided had they just ignored the small Web site. Since their initial letter the Web site experienced a marked increase in traffic.

Fero, who is a key strategist for Texas democrats and an experienced media expert, moved quickly to frame this as a triumph for his cause. "No one has disputed a single fact featured on EnronOwnsTheGop.com," said Fero in a column for Buzzflash.com. "The site will stay up until the four statewide Republican candidates whose political operatives are trying to shut it down return their Enron cash to the ex-employees of the failed energy company."

Those four candidates he mentions are the "stars" of EnronOwnsTheGOP.com. The site's right hand column -- labeled "Enron En-fluence" -- names these culprits and their Enron contributions: Governor Rick Perry, $227,075; Attorney General John Cornyn, $193,000; Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, $71,500; and AG candidate Greg Abbott, employee of Bracewell & Patterson, a large creditor of Enron.

Click on the names of these powerful people and the site presents some of the slimy details behind the contributions.

Perry refuses to return the money despite receiving a healthy sum of $25,000 the very day after appointing former Enron executive Max Yzaguirre to head the public utilities commission.

Cornyn also received $25,000 after the Yzaguirre appointment and a separate sum before "siding with Enron in a utility case in which the company sought to keep financial information secret as it competed for business in the deregulated utility market," notes the Web site.

The site criticizes Rylander for mismanaging the state tobacco settlement fund, to the tune of $61 million, in bad Enron investments and other deals.

Abbott also accepted Enron contributions while campaigning for lieutenant governor. Though he says he has given money back, he is closely tied to a law firm whose biggest client and most famous debtor is Enron.

A notable exclusion on the site is Texas' most prominent politician, George W. Bush. Enron was one of Bush's top corporate supporters during gubernatorial elections in 1994 and 1998. And Enron's contributions swelled to nearly $2 million during the 2000 presidential election.

Republicans in and beyond Texas emphasize that Enron is a business scandal and not a political scandal. The close timing of political appointments and Enron contributions have been dismissed by Republicans as mere coincidence.

Considering the facts presented on EnronOwnsTheGOP.com, that defense seems laughable. Predictably, Republicans aren't even chuckling. As Fero says, "We are not surprised that the GOP fails to see the humor in this Web site."

Omar J. Pahati is the associate editor of AlterNet.org. Email him at oj@alternet.org.

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