The Enron Corporation ripped off the pensions of thousands of its workers by denying them the ability to sell their Enron stock when it was plummeting.
Enron ripped off investors by not being honest about the financial condition of the company.
Enron ripped off ratepayers by manipulating the energy market and forcing electrical rates to soar in California and elsewhere.
Enron ripped off taxpayers by playing fast and loose with the tax code, by not paying its fair share of taxes, and by receiving hundreds of millions in tax rebates from the federal government.
Enron is a poster child of how a group of powerful corporate leaders come to exert enormous clout over elected officials and get the rules changed in their favor. Its growth and decline are a perfect example of why we need strong campaign finance reform. Special interests cannot be allowed to continue wrecking havoc with our political and economic life.
Enron contributed nearly $6 million to both Republicans and Democrats over the past year. What did they get for the money they spent then and in the past? In four out of the last five years this hugely profitable company paid no taxes. In fact, according to The New York Times, they received $382 million in tax refunds. Further, if the House Republican economic stimulus package ever becomes law, they would receive another $254 million in tax rebates.
So one thing they got for their money was tax breaks. Not just them, but the many wealthy contributors who could afford to pay $2500 a plate to have dinner with George Bush. He got elected, and guess what? He eliminated the budget surplus, which could have paid down the national debt, in order to give huge tax breaks to the wealthy, averaging $53,000 annually. Meanwhile for the 78 million taxpayers in the lowest 60 percent of the income scale, the tax cut will average $347 a year. And the House Republican Economic Stimulus package would do even worse damage. Over fifty percent of the tax cut would go to the richest one percent, those with incomes over $384,000, while the bottom 60 percent of taxpayers would get just 7 percent of the tax cuts.
Enron offered candidate George W. Bush its fleet of corporate jets for political travel during the 2000 campaign, and the Chairman of Enron, Kenneth Lay and his wife have contributed almost $800,000 to the Republican Party since 1988.
What did they get for their money? Is it an accident that Enron was able to arrange secret meetings with Vice President Cheney to help craft the Administrationís energy bill?. Is it an accident that the Bush Administration refused to help California and other states deal with the energy crisis last summer which cost consumers there billions of dollars and helped pad the pockets of Enron executives?
Arthur Andersen, the firm that allowed Enron to overstate its profits by some $580 million over the past 4 years, spent more than $5 million in campaign contributions to both Republicans and Democrats since 1989.
What did Arthur Anderson get? The rejection of a proposed rule by former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt that would have banned independent auditing firms from receiving consultant fees. Last year alone, Andersen received $27 million in consulting fees from Enron. In fact, while the Big 5 accounting firms were paid $909 million for their auditing work last year, they were paid $2.65 billion for consulting and other services, a very serious appearance of a conflict of interest. Can an auditor be independent and honest when two thirds of its income comes not from auditing but from consulting about how to take advantage of every legality and loophole?
But itís not just Enron and itís not just Arthur Anderson. Campaign spending is out of control. The simple truth is that large, powerful corporations like Enron should not be allowed to direct the policy-making of this nation by virtue of the huge campaign contributions they make. Corporate financing of campaigns, huge political donations by the wealthy, are severely impacting our democratic way of life. Who will look out for the well-being of the average American who does not attend those $25,000 a plate fundraising dinners held in Washington?
If you can believe it, political parties and candidates spent more than $3 billion on the 2000 elections according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Eighty percent of political contributions come from the wealthiest one-quarter of 1 percent of the population. And what are the results?
At the same time that Americans pay the highest prices for prescription drugs of any people in the industrialized world, the pharmaceutical industry spent over $180 million in campaign contributions, advertising and lobbying during the 1999-2000 elections.
At the same time that some of the largest companies in America including IBM, GE and Chevron were in line for a $25 billion corporate welfare check from the House Republican economic stimulus bill, they spent over $45 million in campaign contributions over the past 10 years.
At the same time that 44 million Americans do not have health insurance, HMOís, health service providers and the health insurance industry spent over $20 million in campaign contributions, advertising and public relations during the 1999-2000 elections.
At the same time that the House Republican energy bill would provide $33 billion in tax breaks for energy companies, the energy sector spent nearly $65 million in campaign contributions to both major political parties.
Clearly, our campaign finance system needs to be fundamentally changed. We need to be a nation in which political influence is determined by one person, one vote. Not by large corporations and wealthy people contributing hundreds of millions to the political party and candidate of their choice.
As a first step, Congress needs to pass the Shays-Meehan Campaign Reform Act as soon as possible. The Senate has already passed the similar McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Bill. Both bills will put an end to soft money contributions.
The Republican leadership does not want campaign finance reform to come to a vote, because they know that people nationwide will demand that their legislators pass it. So the House Republican Leadership has used every political device, every bit of arm-twisting they can muster, to prevent the Shays-Meehan bill from being brought forward for a vote.
Thereís good news, though. The legislation just got four signatures two more than were needed on a discharge petition, which requires the House to take up Shays-Meehan on the floor instead of allowing it to be bottled up in committees. The Republican Hosue leadership is still stalling on the date of a floor vote, but it will come.
It would be a fitting irony if the final result of Enronís huge campaign contributions were to bring about campaign finance reform, so that such contributions could never again be made.
Bernard Sanders, Independent Congressman from Vermont, has signed the discharge petition, as well as Shays-Meehan. He has never accepted contributions from Enron or Arthur Anderson or any corporate donor.