After Enron’s former chairman Ken Lay died on July 5 of a heart problem, the mainstream media were quick to point out how President George W. Bush affectionately once called the convicted criminal “Kenny Boy.” Numerous references were made to the close ties between the two. National Public Radio reported that Enron was Bush’s largest corporate backer in the 2000 election, and that Lay had attended secret meetings with Vice President Dick Cheney to help shape the Bush Administration’s energy policy. NPR’s story never mentioned former President Clinton’s ties to Enron.
Leading the charge, the New York Times obituary purported to show the political history of the company going back to George H.W. Bush’s presidency, but it left out the material damaging to the Democrats. The only mention of Clinton in the Times’ obituary was that, “Mr. Lay continued his close contact with Washington?remaining close friends with Mr. Bush, later golfing with President Bill Clinton, and eventually establishing a close relationship with George W. Bush, while he was the governor of Texas.” That’s it.
The Washington Post had pulled the same trick before Lay’s death, using a May 26 story by Zachary A. Goldfarb headlined, “Once a Friend and Ally, Now A Distant Memory,” on Bush and Lay and Enron. The paper ran a photo of Bush and Lay to make the point. The story made no reference to what the Clinton Administration did for Enron.
This effort to link President Bush to Ken Lay, and thus to corporate scandal and accusations of cronyism, has been going on since the 2000 election. It is getting new life-after Lay’s death-in order to damage the Republicans going into the fall elections.
History shows, however, that Lay supported Ann Richards when George W. Bush first ran for governor of Texas in 1994. While it is true that Lay and Enron gave some $6 million to various candidates and both parties, mostly to Republicans, at least $1.5 million went to Clinton and the Democrats. What did Lay and Enron get in return? Numerous trips overseas with Commerce Secretaries and Energy Secretaries, help on at least 18 overseas business projects, and lots of financial support in return for campaign donations. Through the Export-Import Bank and OPIC, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, in loans and loan guarantees, Enron received close to $2 billion in, what shall we call it? Corporate welfare? Payback? Investigative reporter Paul Sperry did an excellent job documenting the benefits Ken Lay received from the Clinton administration.
Lay was a member of Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development and backed the U.N.’s global warming treaty. Enron participated in a U.N. conference to develop Communist China’s coal reserves.
Prosecutors in the case against Enron executives Lay and Jeffrey Skilling say they had been providing false and misleading financial information from 1999 until Enron filed for bankruptcy in late 2001. When the company finally was forced to accept the reality of what was happening, there was one more effort to keep things afloat. A prominent Democrat, Robert Rubin, who had been Clinton’s Treasury secretary, suddenly got busy.
Rubin had become the chairman of the executive committee at Citigroup, one of Enron’s largest creditors. On November 8, 2001, Rubin contacted Peter Fisher, a senior official in Bush’s Treasury department. The unusual nature of the call, according to an article in Forbes magazine, was to ask “Fisher to consider advising the bond-rating agencies against an immediate downgrade of Enron’s debt. Fisher said that for him to intervene would not be a good idea, and Rubin backed down.”
Hence, the evidence shows that the Bush administration, having received significant campaign contributions, refused to attempt to intervene on behalf of Lay and Enron, and the Bush Justice Department vigorously prosecuted the case, achieving serious convictions of the top executives of the company. But don’t expect the liberal media to give the Bush Administration any credit for this.
If you want some of the facts about the Clinton-Enron ties, you have to read the conservative press. Marc Morano, in an article for Human Events, documented many of the dealings that Enron and the Clinton Democrats pursued together, including pressuring the poor African nation of Mozambique to enter into an agreement with Enron to build a pipeline. The country was threatened with losing its foreign aid dollars if it didn’t comply.
By the same token, Enron’s cultivation of the conservative media, through payments by the company or Lay himself to Bill Kristol and Erwin Stelzer of The Weekly Standard, Larry Kudlow of National Review, and Peggy Noonan of The Wall Street Journal, became a major embarrassment. These “Enron conservatives” were paid either to sit on a company advisory board and offer advice or write speeches. Even here, however, the left also got its hands dirty. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman was exposed for taking $50,000 of Enron money.
In the final analysis, coverage of Enron and Ken Lay provides another case study of liberal media bias. Once again, the media double standard was on display, offering a distorted picture of political corruption that in reality reflects on liberal Democrats more than conservative Republicans. At least the Bush Administration tried to clean up the mess.