FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Enron Makes Case for Campaign-Finance Reform

As the Enron story unfolds, we are reminded why the U.S. Supreme Court, in its famous 1976 Buckley vs. Valeo decision, said that the appearance of corruption, not just corruption itself, justifies congressional action to place limits on our campaign-finance system.

The court understood that public mistrust of government is destructive to democracy; from a constitutional point of view, it hardly matters whether that mistrust is based on actual misconduct or simply its appearance.

Congress must address public confidence in government at this crucial time by finally passing campaign-finance reform.

In the case of Enron’s collapse, the need to address public mistrust is paramount for Congress and the Bush administration as they investigate alleged wrongdoing.

When a corporation such as Enron leaves devastated employees and fleeced shareholders in its wake, the public depends on Congress and the administration to determine what went wrong and defend the public interest.

But the potential for a conflict of interest is clear.

Many of the elected officials now asked to sit in judgment of Enron, including members of Congress, the attorney general and the president, have been accepting and even asking for campaign contributions from Enron for years.

The political parties have pocketed more than $3.5 million in unregulated, unlimited soft money from Enron since 1991.

Congress must move forward with the investigations into Enron’s conduct, despite the potential conflict of interest that political contributions might pose.

In fact, this is familiar territory for Congress. Everyday, members of Congress accept huge campaign contributions with one hand, and vote on issues affecting their contributors with the other. And everyday, the public naturally questions whether their representatives are giving special treatment to the wealthy interests that fund their campaigns and bankroll their political parties.

In the case of the Enron investigations, each member of Congress must decide whether simply donating Enron contributions to charity or even recusal is the appropriate way to attempt to address public skepticism.

Enron deftly used the campaign-finance system to its advantage long before the story of its collapse made its political contributions so well known. Enron’s executives had a hot line to government leaders shaping energy policy, and even reportedly were assisted by high government officials with a debt owed to Enron by the government of India.

The Enron scandal illustrates the permanent conflict of interest that political contributions — especially unlimited soft money contributions to the parties — have created for elected officials at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

In the case of soft money, both parties have gladly accepted money from officials at Enron and the auditing firm of Arthur Andersen. Those soft money contributions compromise the integrity of members of both parties as inquiries into these corporations’ conduct get under way.

Attorney General John Ashcroft’s decision to recuse himself from the investigation is confirmation of this deep conflict of interest. The Bush administration must take every step possible to remove the appearance of a conflict in all aspects of this case, and if evidence of impropriety by any high-ranking official arises, it should immediately appoint a special counsel.

But however hard Congress and the administration might work to maintain the integrity of the investigations into Enron’s actions, they are hindered from the start by the staggering sums of money Enron poured into the political system.

We are just beginning to understand the depth of the accounting and financial scandals Enron and Arthur Andersen have set in motion, and it will take time to decide how Congress should work to prevent similar problems in the future.

But we don’t need months to decide how to address the potential conflict of interest that unlimited political contributions create for members of Congress and presidential administrations. The Senate passed the McCain-Feingold bill to eliminate the soft money system last April, and the House is poised to debate its counterpart, the Shays-Meehan bill.

While eliminating soft money will not cure the campaign-finance system of every ill, it will end a system of unlimited donations that has blatantly put political access and influence up for sale.

Enron is just one of the many corporations, unions and wealthy individuals that has exploited the soft-money loophole to buy influence with Congress and the executive branch at the very highest levels.

While Enron’s demise has highlighted some of the worst failings of government, perhaps it can also, ironically, restore some faith in government by affecting real change.

One of the first things that can be done is to shut down the soft-money system. Both Congress and the Bush administration should take seriously the public’s concern about their potential conflict of interest.

By passing campaign-finance reform, they can begin to regain some of the public’s trust.

Russ Feingold is a Wisconsin Democrat. He and Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, are sponsoring legislation that would ban soft money.

More articles by:

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
July 16, 2019
Conn Hallinan
The World Needs a Water Treaty
Kenneth Surin
Britain Grovels: the Betrayal of the British Ambassador
Christopher Ketcham
This Land Was Your Land
Gary Leupp
What Right Has Britain to Seize an Iranian Tanker Off Spain?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Democratic Virtues in Electing a President
Thomas Knapp
Free Speech Just isn’t That Complicated
Binoy Kampmark
The Resigning Ambassador
Howard Lisnoff
Everybody Must Get Stoned
Nicky Reid
Nukes For Peace?
Matt Johnson
The United States of Overreaction
Cesar Chelala
Children’s Trafficking and Exploitation is a Persistent, Dreary Phenomenon
Martin Billheimer
Sylvan Shock Theater
July 15, 2019
David Altheide
The Fear Party
Roger Harris
UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Bachelet’s Gift to the US: Justifying Regime Change in Venezuela
John Feffer
Pyongyang on the Potomac
Vincent Kelley
Jeffrey Epstein and the Collapse of Europe
Robert Fisk
Trump’s Hissy-Fit Over Darroch Will Blow a Chill Wind Across Britain’s Embassies in the Middle East
Binoy Kampmark
Juggling with the Authoritarians: Donald Trump’s Diplomatic Fake Book
Dean Baker
The June Jobs Report and the State of the Economy
Michael Hudson – Bonnie Faulkner
De-Dollarizing the American Financial Empire
Kathy Kelly
Remnants of War
B. Nimri Aziz
The Power of Our Human Voice: From Marconi to Woods Hole
Elliot Sperber
Christianity Demands a Corpse 
Weekend Edition
July 12, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Skull of Death: Mass Media, Inauthentic Opposition, and Eco-Existential Reality in a Pre-Fascist Age of Appeasement
T.J. Coles
“Strategic Extremism”: How Republicans and Establishment Democrats Use Identity Politics to Divide and Rule
Rob Urie
Toward an Eco-Socialist Revolution
Gregory Elich
How Real is the Trump Administration’s New Flexibility with North Korea?
Jason Hirthler
The Journalists Do The Shouting
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pâté Politics in the Time of Trump and Pelosi
Andrew Levine
The Electoral Circus as the End of Its Initial Phase Looms
David Swanson
Earth Over the Brink
Ron Jacobs
Presidential Papers
Robert Hunziker
The Flawed Food Dependency
Dave Lindorff
Defeating the Trump Administration’s Racist, Republican-Rescuing Census Corruption
Martha Rosenberg
Pathologizing Kids, Pharma Style
Kathleen Wallace
Too Horrible to Understand, Too Horrible to Ignore
Ralph Nader
An Unsurpassable Sterling Record of Stamina!
Paul Tritschler
Restricted View: the British Legacy of Eugenics
John Feffer
Trump’s Bluster Diplomacy
Thomas Knapp
Did Jeffrey Epstein “Belong to Intelligence?”
Nicholas Buccola
Colin Kaepernick, Ted Cruz, Frederick Douglass and the Meaning of Patriotism
P. Sainath
It’s Raining Sand in Rayalaseema
Charles Davis
Donald Trump’s Fake Isolationism
Michael Lukas
Delisting Wolves and the Impending Wolf Slaughter
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Shaking Off Capitalism for Ecological Civilization
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail