years ago this Wednesday,
George W. Bush was taking time out from the campaign
trail against Al Gore to travel to Houston to
take in a game.
Where was he? Enron Field.
His host was Ken Lay. This was a big day for "Kenny
Boy," as George W. once affectionately tagged
him. One year earlier, Lay's Enron Corporation,
one of the seemingly great economic stories of
the 1990s, had agreed to pay more than $100 million
over 30 years (!) for the naming rights to the
new Houston baseball stadium.
On one level, Enron Field was a strange place
for George W. Bush to be in April of 2000. Having
already vanquished his main GOP primary rival,
John McCain, an observer schooled in politics
might have expected that Bush would be directly
engaging Vice-President Gore in hand-to-hand political
combat in a swing state. After all, both Florida
and Ohio have baseball teams.
But Texas was never a battleground state, and
Houston was never a place where W's presence was
required for political reasons. So if George W.
just wanted to take in a ballgame to relax, why
not a visit to his old team, the Texas Rangers,
the Sammy Sosa-trading/eminent domain-wielding/sales
tax-increasing corporate juggernaut that allowed
him to turn a mere $600,000 (mostly in loans)
into $14 million faster than you can say "Hillary
Clinton cattle futures".
Ah, but there is a reason. You see, according
to Opensecrets.org, Enron bossman Ken Lay was well on his way
to building the Enron family into the soon-to-be-President-Select's
number one lifetime donor--and for a mere $736,800,
a pittance compared to that $100M for the naming
rights to Enron Field.
Of course, as Kevin Phillips has pointed out,
the actual investment the Enron crowd made in
the Bush family is much higher--maybe not as much
as a stadium name, but quite a bit more substantial
In the Nation magazine, Phillips argued that, "most of the Washington
press corps has been content to leave alone the
much larger story--the apparent seventeen-year
connection between the Bush dynasty and Enron.
Even without such information, it seems clear,
counting campaign contributions, consultancies,
joint investments, deals, presidential library
and inaugural contributions, speech fees and the
like, that the Bush family and entourage collected
some $8 million to $10 million from Enron over
the years, which is more than changed hands in
Harding's Teapot Dome scandal. Depending on some
still-unclear relationships, it could be as high
as $25 million."
What Phillips pointed out almost two years ago
remains uninvestigated today.
Why does it matter? Well, not only did Lay and
his corporate minions outdo all the other Pioneers
to take home the George W. Number One lifetime
donor crown, Ken Lay and Enron contributed to
the "successes" of the early Bush administration
in many ways before the corporation imploded.
Enron's corporate tentacles ran deep, and have
never been fully exhumed. My own personal favorite
is this little tidbit: not only did Ken Lay, Linda
Lay and Jeffrey Skilling each donate $100,000
to George W's inaugural fund, but, according to
Arianna Huffington, Enron provided the corporate
jet that flew his parents in for the show. Now
Ken Lay involved Enron in White House personnel
decisions, especially in the selection of new
energy regulatory heads; and in policy-making,
including the infamous Dick Cheney energy task
force meetings, which are still secret today.
Several key administration officials had strong
ties to Enron, owned large amounts of Enron stock
or had taken Enron campaign contributions in earlier
races. And Enron lobbied hard to keep the Bush
administration on the sidelines during the California
Despite all these links, when Enron began to go
down the tubes, George W. acted like Bill Clinton
in the early days of the Monica Lewinsky crisis.
As several wags pointed out, W's extremely lame--and
misleading--comments, suggesting that he had inherited
Ken Lay's support from Ann Richards, and implying
that 1994 was ". . . when I first got to know
Ken and worked with Ken, and he supported my candidacy"
was not only just flat out wrong, it was the moral
and economic equivalent of "I did not have business
relations with that man!"
(And when Bill Clinton lied, no one's pensions
These were not exactly the comments of an honest
man. Not the reaction of a man with nothing to
hide. And not even close to the truth, given what
we know about George W. Bush and "Kenny Boy" Lay.
Unfortunately, just as we were beginning to find
out more about their true relationship, the Iraqi
WMDs coincidentally leaped to the top of the public
agenda, right before the 2002 election, and just
in time to drive all the Enron/Worldcom/Tyco corporate
corruption off the front pages. The national media
at that point gave up trying to look into what
George W. Bush and "Kenny Boy" Lay really had
But now we know that the WMDs were hyped. Now
the world understands that the war with Iraq was
"a war of choice" rather than necessity--and the
timing was deliberately chosen to influence the
2002 elections. Now it should be clear to everyone
that this administration is not the truth-telling,
straight-talking group that they projected in
their 2000 campaign.
So, maybe it's time for another look at Enron.
Maybe this fourth anniversary of George W's visit
to Enron Field can be the occasion for some investigative
reporting about the history of this company and
After all, Martha Stewart's been convicted, but
Kenny Boy is still at large. After all, Enron's
corruption was not just another low-grade Arkansas
money-losing land deal. After all, W's lame response
about his relationship to Ken Lay is a strong
indication that Bush himself felt the need to
Kevin Phillips once again sets the standard for
investigation: "The most interesting Bush family
involvement is with Enron. Over the twentieth-century
emergence of modern government ethics, no presidential
family has had a parallel relationship. . . However,
the only way a chronicler can seriously weigh
the Enron-Bush tie is by a yardstick the American
press has never really employed: the unseemliness
of a sixteen- or seventeen-year interaction by
the members of an American political dynasty in
promoting and being rewarded by a single U.S.
corporation based in its home state."
Here's an idea--maybe Ken Lay could do a public
interview, tell the truth about his relationship
with the Bush family, let us all know all the
schemes and tricks that Enron came up with, and
then, having relieved his tortured conscience,
throw himself on the mercy of the public. Sometimes
the truth actually works--it did for John Dean.
Or here's another one--maybe Paul O'Neill could
come clean about what Ken Lay and Enron really
asked for when they called the Bush administration,
right before they collapsed. After the nasty treatment
the Bushies gave Secretary O'Neill because of
his last book, I can imagine that an O'Neill Enron
essay now might be very interesting.
Cobble is a senior fellow at the Center for International
Posted: April 9, 2004