By Molly Ivins
HOUSTON, Texas—A Houston jury convicted both Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling, despite the fact that Kenny Boy packed his Bible to the courtroom every day.
Since it is a long and noble Texas tradition for the accused to fight all allegations by finding Jesus, this indicates a major degree of guilt. (While on trial for murder, T. Cullen Davis, the Fort Worth millionaire, not only found Jesus but also threw a big party to celebrate at the mansion, with piles of shrimp and BBQ and a soundtrack that announced over and over throughout the grounds that night, “The son of Stinky Davis has found the son of God.”)
Meanwhile, Houston reacted as though the Rockets had won the NBA championship.
Many a thoughtful analyst has given us to understand that Lay and Skilling are guilty of arrogance and hubris. Actually, they were convicted of fraud—massive, overwhelming and monstrous fraud. They also stole money and looted pension funds. They rigged energy markets and almost drove California (seventh-largest economy in the world) into bankruptcy.
And all along the way, this monstrous fraud was connected to government. Enron bought the politicians who bent the rules that let them steal, con and gyp. Lay and Skilling talked state after state into following the California model and deregulating electricity. Happy summer, everyone.
And then, of course, there was the thumbing-the-nose thievery, the offshore partnerships tricked out with the clever names so insiders would know how slick they were.
As the late Rep. Wright Patman Sr. observed: “Many of our wealthiest and most powerful citizens are very greedy. This fact has many times been demonstrated.”
The interesting thing about Lay and Skilling is they weren’t trying to evade the rules, they were rigging the rules in their favor. The fix was in—much of it law passed by former Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, whose wife, Wendy, served on the board of Enron.
Where does that sense of entitlement come from? What makes a Ken Lay think he can call the governor of Texas and ask him to soften up Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania on electricity deregulation? Not that being governor of Texas has ever been an office of much majesty, but a corporate robber wouldn’t think of doing that if it were Brian Schweitzer of Montana or Bill Richardson of New Mexico.
The extent to which not just state legislatures but the Congress of the United States are now run by large corporate special interests is beyond mere recognition as fact. The takeover is complete. Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay put in place a system in which it’s not a question of letting the head of the camel into the tent—the camels run the place.
It has all happened quite quickly—in less than 20 years. Laws were changed and regulations repealed until an Enron can set sail without responsibility, supervision or accountability. The business pages are fond of trumpeting the merits of “transparency” and “accountability,” but you will notice whenever there is a chance to roll back any of the New Deal regs, the corporations go for broke trying to get rid of them entirely.
I’m not attempting to make this a partisan deal—only 73 percent of Enron’s political donations went to Republicans. But I’ll be damned if Enron’s No. 1 show pony politician, George W. Bush, should be allowed to walk away from this. Ken Lay gave $139,500 to Bush over the years. He chipped in $100,000 to the Bush Cheney Inaugural Fund in 2000 and $10K to the Bush-Cheney Recount Fund.
Plus, Enron’s PAC gave Bush $113,800 for his ‘94 and ‘98 political races and another $312,500 from its executives. Bush got 14 free rides on Enron’s corporate jets during the 2000 campaign, including at least two during the recount. Until January 2004, Enron was Bush’s top contributor.
And what did it get for its money? Ken Lay was on Bush’s short list to be energy secretary. He not only almost certainly served on Cheney’s energy task force, there is every indication that the task force’s energy plan, the one we have been on for five years, is in fact the Enron plan. Lay used Bush as an errand boy, calling the governor of Texas and having him phone Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania to vouch for what swell energy deregulation bills Enron was sponsoring in states all over the country.
It seems to me we all understand this is a systemic problem.
We need to reform the political system, or we’ll lose the democracy. I don’t think it’s that hard. It doesn’t take rocket science. We’ve done it before successfully at the presidential level and tried it several places at the state level. Public campaign financing isn’t perfect and can doubtlessly be improved upon as we go. Let us begin.