Here’s a question: Who received more money in political contributions from Enron, conservative Republican Rep. Dick Armey or liberal Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee?
The answer is Lee, who, according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis of Enron’s contributions from 1989 to 2001, received $38,000 from Enron — compared to $5,550 for Armey.
Another question: Who received more from Enron in the Senate, conservative Republican Jon Kyl or liberal Democrat Charles Schumer? The answer, according to the Center, is Schumer, who received $21,933, compared to $2,450 for Kyl.
Now, it is clear that, overall, Enron gave more money to Republicans than Democrats — according to the Center, the company gave 73 percent of its contributions to the GOP from 1989 to 2001, versus 27 percent for Democrats. And Enron certainly was a major supporter of George W. Bush (although it also contributed to the Al Gore and Bill Clinton presidential campaigns). But the examples from Congress suggest that the Enron story might be too complex for Democrats to cast as a purely partisan matter. (To see the Center’s list of House contributions, click here. To see the list of Senate contributions, click here. For presidential contributions, click here.)
In the House for example, six of the top ten recipients of contributions from Enron are Democrats: Lee, Ken Bentsen, Martin Frost, Charles Stenholm, Chet Edwards, all of Texas, plus John Dingell of Michigan. In the Senate, there are just two Democrats in the top ten, Schumer of New York and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico. However, the top 20 Senate recipients also includes none other than Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who received $6,000 from the company.
At some point it is likely that some of the legitimate questions now being directed at the Bush White House — What contacts were there with representatives of Enron? What was said by whom? Was any action taken? — will eventually also be asked of members of Congress, some of whom deal every day with issues affecting Enron.
“It’s not a clean hit,” says one Democratic strategist, suggesting that Democrats who take aim at Republicans over Enron will inevitably hit some fellow Democrats, too. Why, even New York Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton received $950 from Enron. Ted Kennedy got $1,000. Harry Reid also took in $1,000, while Ernest Hollings got $3,500, Byron Dorgan got $3,500, and Bob Graham got $8,000. Those numbers are roughly comparable to Republicans Rick Santorum, who received $1,000, Trent Lott, who took in $2,000, Jim Inhofe, who received $2,550, and Don Nickles, who got $7,000. (The two senators who took in the most from Enron are both Republicans from Texas, Kay Bailey Hutchinson with $99,500 and the retiring Phil Gramm with $97,350.)
So in the coming weeks, watch for Democrats, and some Republicans, to try to keep the Enron issue tightly focused on the White House. Taking a broader view might raise more questions than anyone on Capitol Hill wants to answer.