WASHINGTON – The Enron bailout has become a cause celebre for scores of groups and individuals. The latest: Rev. Jesse Jackson, who went to the company's headquarters Thursday to demand company executives reimburse laid-off workers with money they pocketed from the sale of their stocks.
Enron executives, including former CEO Ken Lay, collected hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses, buy-outs, and stock options amid business practices challenged by Congress, the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
A day earlier, Lay resigned as chairman of Enron, the company he built then led into bankruptcy. He remains on the board of directors.
A Jackson spokesman said Jackson was not there to attack Lay, but to gather support for thousands who lost their savings.
Jackson excused Lay, who declined to meet Jackson citing a family emergency.
"It's not personal. To be sure, right now he's in great pain, great agony," Jackson said.
During Jackson's visit, he compared Lay to the Bible's Job, saying Job too had a great fall. Jackson said he has met and prayed with Lay in the past. Lay is the son of a Baptist preacher.
Enron Corp. declared bankruptcy Dec. 2, leaving thousands of employees with empty 401 (k) retirement accounts. Thousands of stockholders were also left holding the bag after Enron concealed that it was in financial trouble until just six weeks before its collapse.
Jackson, founder of the Rainbow/Push coalition, is the father of Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Ill., who received a small donation from Enron for his congressional campaign. Enron was among the biggest donors to politicians, Republican and Democrat alike. Some, including Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., have donated their contributions to funds set up to help employees who lost their savings in the collapse.
Laid off Enron workers received more help Friday in the form of the Enron Employee Transition Fund, which so far has $156,000 from politicians who have returned contributions. It will be used to provide former Enron workers with career counseling and job placement services as well as help them negotiate deferments on mortgage and other payments. A smaller portion of the funding also will be used to provide workers with direct assistance to pay for bills and other expenses.
Jackson's appearance comes after Rev. Al Sharpton visited Houston to call for federal help for Enron employees.
"Government should come in and provide some emergency relief. As we go through the investigations and possibly through prosecutions, these people can't survive that."
Sharpton, who will return to Houston again next week, said government is responsible for covering the losses because it failed to intervene in the collapse.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.