WASHINGTON – After heaping criticism on the GOP recently for taking hefty campaign donations over the years from Enron Corp., Democrats are now on the defensive for taking $100,000 from the embattled energy company just before it filed for bankruptcy earlier this month.
Attorney Robert Bennett, who represented President Clinton in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case and several senators caught up in the 1980's savings and loan scandal, is representing Enron on Capitol Hill.
He said the $100,000 given to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in two $50,000 payments last month, had been pledged months before and reflected the Senate shift to a Democratic majority rather than the pending bankruptcy and various federal investigations that immediately followed.
"Donations of this type reflect certain political realities which are followed by all major corporations," he said, adding that it "would be unfair to draw any improper motive from these contributions."
Enron filed for bankruptcy on Dec. 2. Critics from both parties say the company was engaging in unfair and deceptive, perhaps criminal, market practices to avoid a massive cash in of stocks by Enron employees, many of whom had invested entire family savings into company retirement accounts.
Today, those retirement accounts are decimated and thousands of Enron employees in the United States and Europe are out of work following the energy giant’s collapse.
This week, Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee demanded that the Federal Trade Commission investigate why company executives were allowed to cash in their stocks while other employees were prevented from selling the sinking shares.
The Departments of Labor, Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission are all conducting their own investigations.
President George W. Bush and the Republican Party have taken a lot of heat since Houston-based Enron went bust, with many critics drawing lines between the company’s campaign donations and favorable treatment from Texas members of Congress and the new Bush White House.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 73 percent of Enron’s $5.8 million in campaign donations since 1990 has gone to Republicans. This year, almost 90 percent of the $173,000 it gave to candidates and parties went to Republicans.
Enron’s Chairman and CEO Kenneth Lay and his wife have given a total of $793,100 to Republicans since 1989.
A DSCC spokesmwoman said the committee is considering contributing the contribution to an organization that would help laid-off Enron workers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.