WASHINGTON – A week before filing for bankruptcy protection, energy giant Enron Corp. donated $100,000 to the Democratic Party committee that helps Senate candidates, campaign finance reports show.
The company, which had given 90 percent of its money to Republicans this year before the Democratic donations, also has hired high-profile Washington lawyer Robert Bennett, whose past clients include President Clinton.
"Donations of this type reflect certain political realities which are followed by all major corporations," Bennett said Wednesday in explaining Enron's $50,000 checks on Nov. 25 and Nov. 26 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Enron filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Dec. 2.
Tovah Ravitz-Meehan, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senate fund-raising committee, said the head of the organization, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has asked that Enron's money be given to a charitable organization helping laid-off Enron workers. She said the charity hasn't been chosen.
"It wasn't right to keep it and it wasn't right to give it back to Enron so we're looking for charitable options," Ravitz-Meehan said.
Congressional Republicans and Democrats alike have heaped criticism on Enron, accusing the company of burning stockholders who were unaware of the company's failing condition, throwing thousands of people out of work and decimating retirement accounts.
Earlier this week, Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee demanded the Federal Trade Commission investigate why company executives were allowed to cash out their stock while other employees were prevented from selling the company's sinking shares in their retirement accounts.
Bennett said there was no connection between congressional inquiries and the donations.
"It is very unfair to draw any improper motive based on these contributions," he said. "While the money was given in November, a large portion of it had been committed as far back as September."
Bennett will represent Enron in dealing with Congress, the news media and investigators.
He represented Clinton in the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Paula Jones, and was the Senate ethics committee's counsel in the investigation of five senators with ties to a failed savings and loan operator.
Before the contributions to the Democrats, Enron this year had contributed $173,000 to candidates and parties, with almost 90 percent going to Republicans.
Since the 1989-90 election cycle, Enron has made nearly $5.8 million in campaign contributions, 73 percent to Republicans.
The contributions were compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, an organization that tracks campaign finance issues.
In addition to the corporate donations, federal reports show Enron chairman and chief executive Kenneth Lay donated $250,000 to the Republican Party during President Bush's campaign and raised at least $100,000 for Bush from other donors.
The Justice Department is investigating Houston-based Enron for possible criminal conduct. The Labor Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission are conducting civil investigations.