WASHINGTON – The White House is trying to put at least an arm's length between President Bush and indicted Enron executive Kenneth Lay (search), a campaign benefactor Bush nicknamed "Kenny Boy" when the two were up-and-comers in Texas.
It has been "quite some time" since Bush and Lay talked with each other, White House press secretary Scott McClellan (search) said Thursday, brushing off questions about whether the two were friends.
"He was a supporter in the past and he's someone that I would also point out has certainly supported Democrats and Republicans in the past," McClellan said.
Lay clearly favored the GOP. He and his wife, Linda, donated $882,580 to federal candidates from 1989-2001, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. All but $86,470 went to Republicans. Enron and its employees gave $3 million to Republican candidates from 1998 to 2001 and $1.1 million to Democrats.
McClellan declined to discuss the federal indictment charging Lay with a wide-ranging scheme to deceive the public, company shareholders and government regulators about the energy company that he founded and led to industry prominence before its collapse.
Instead, McClellan answered questions about Lay by talking about Bush's desire to curb corporate fraud (search).
"This president has worked to go after those wrongdoers and directed his administration to pursue those who are dishonest in the boardroom," McClellan said.
"The president has made it very clear that we will not tolerate dishonesty in the boardroom. This administration worked to uncover abuses and scandals in the corporate arena. And certainly the president's concern is with those workers and other people who have been harmed by corporate wrongdoing," McClellan said.
Democrat John Kerry's (search) campaign had a different view, accusing the administration of dragging its feet on Enron (search). "It was three years too late," Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said of the Lay indictment.
Lay's relationship with the Bush family dates from at least 1990, when he was co-chairman of former President Bush's economic summit for industrialized nations, which was held in Houston. Lay also was co-chairman of the host committee for the Republican National Convention when it was held in Houston in 1992.
The Center for Public Integrity, a Washington-based nonprofit group, said the Lays had given $139,500 to George W. Bush's political campaigns over the years.
Those donations were part of $602,000 that Enron employees gave to Bush's various campaigns, making Enron the leading political patron for Bush at the time of the company's bankruptcy in 2001.
In addition to Lay's political campaign donations, he and his wife contributed $100,000 to Bush's 2001 inauguration. Lay also was a fund-raiser for Bush, bringing in at least $100,000 for Bush's 2000 campaign. That put Lay in "Pioneer" status as one of the president's top money-raisers.