Enron's Close Ties to Bush

ByABC News
December 10, 2001, 10:34 AM

W A S H I N G T O N, Dec. 10 -- When the energy-trading firm Enron collapsed recently after disclosing financial irregularities, thousands of employees lost their jobs and investors lost billions. Enron's fall also crippled one of President Bush's most loyal corporate supporters.

The Houston-based company was among the first to back Bush when he ran for governor of Texas. Enron and its executives went on to become the largest source of financial support for Bush's gubernatorial campaigns, giving more than $500,000, according to a study by the Center for Public Integrity.

"Enron was the number one career patron for George W. Bush," said center director Charles Lewis. "There was no company in America closer to George W. Bush than Enron."Lewis says the company's goal in backing Bush and other politicians was to encourage further deregulation of the energy industry.

"Enron made a decision that they needed government to go their way and they put the money out to make sure that happened," he said.

Loyalty and Access

Congressional hearings open this week into Enron's financial implosion, which culminated in a Dec. 2. bankruptcy filing. The Labor Department, the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission are all investigating Enron. It's unclear to what extent the inquiries are examining the longstanding ties between administration officials and the company, which was once the seventh-largest U.S. corporation in terms of revenue.

Enron CEO Kenneth Lay has been a friend of Bush and the Bush family for years. When Gov. Bush ran for president, Enron gave him access to a company jet. (The Bush campaign reimbursed the company roughly $25,000 for the flights.)

In April 2000, when Enron opened a new baseball stadium named for the firm, then-candidate Bush sat right in front of Lay in the Enron box.

Since 1999, Enron and its executives have given more than $2 million to the Bush campaign and other GOP causes. Democrats got about a quarter of that amount.

As Bush assumed the presidency, Enron had unusual access to the new administration's deliberations about energy policy and appointments to important posts. Lay served on the Bush transition team and helped interview candidates for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees the gas pipelines and electricity grids that are key to Enron's business. Earlier this year, the commission's chairman, Curtis Hebert, who was being considered for reappointment by the White House, declared himself "offended" by Lay's lobbying efforts. Hebert later quit the panel.