Questionable accounting practices, the shredding of documents, charges of insider trading and last-ditch appeals to the White House for help. The recent collapse of the Houston-based energy giant Enron has virtually all the ingredients for scandal in Washington and then some.
The company’s rapid plunge into bankruptcy court has Congress, the Justice Department and countless federal regulators asking questions, but what happens when Washington launches an investigation into one of its biggest campaign contributors?
One thing is clear: There are very few politicians in Washington that haven’t been on the receiving end of campaign donations from Enron or its equally troubled auditor, Arthur Andersen. Over the last decade, both companies have been among the most prolific givers to federal candidates and parties, while at the same time spending millions of dollars on lobbyists to advance their agenda on Capitol Hill.
Between 1989 and 2001, Enron contributed nearly $6 million to federal parties and candidates, more than two-thirds to Republicans. More than $2 million of that money came during the 1999-2000 election cycle alone, when the company became one of the biggest boosters to President Bush’s campaign for the White House. Enron’s PAC and its employees contributed $114,000 to Bush during the 2000 campaign, while former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay served as one of Bush’s Pioneers, individuals who raised at least $100,000 for the campaign.
Andersen, meanwhile, was an even bigger supporter of Bush, having contributed $146,000 via its employees and PAC in 1999-2000. D. Stephen Goddard, relieved of his managerial duties in Anderson’s Houston office in January, also was one of Bush’s biggest individual donors during the election. All told, Andersen has contributed more than $5.2 million in soft money, PAC and individual contributions to federal parties and candidates, more than half to Republicans.
While Enron’s giving was concentrated mainly in big soft money gifts to the national political parties, Andersen’s generosity often was targeted directly at members of Congress. For instance, more than half the current members of the House of Representatives were recipients of Andersen cash over the last decade. In the Senate, 94 of the chamber’s 100 members reported Andersen contributions since 1989. At the same time, 71 senators and 186 House members (43 percent) reported taking Enron cash over the last decade.