What appears to be unfolding now is not only a political scandal but something on the order of an autopsy of a major corporate exponent of Southwestern wildcatter capitalism and its relationship to political power.
First on Enron's patronage of pundits and opinion leaders. I don't agree with Andrew Sullivan often. But I think he's on to something with Enron and its patronage of pundits and intellectuals. I've already said I think he's been way over the top on Paul Krugman. But on the broader issue of Enron putting a lot of money into the pockets of influential opinion leaders, that's worth looking into.
Some of the people, Bill Kristol for instance, have been pretty up-front about it. Most have been much more cagey.
The real question in my mind is how widespread this practice is. As you can tell from the Online Contribution link over on the left, TPM doesn't have this problem of interested corporations trying to stuff $50,000 checks in his pocket. But it's very hard for me to believe that Enron was the only company doing this. Who else?
Then there's another issue. We now have two apparent cases of Enron's insinuating itself into the Bush White House - this may actually be giving the White House far too much of a pass - by putting the White House's campaign consultants on its payroll.
Yesterday the New York Times reported that Enron put Ralph Reed on the payroll as a favor to Karl Rove, to help keep Reed in the Bush camp. Reed and the White House have both sorta denied the claim. But it's at least consistent with what I learned about Reed while reporting this article two years ago.
(I'll say more about Ralph Reed in a future post.)
Now it also emerges that Ed Gillespie went immediately from the Bush campaign and into the hands of Enron as its man to lobby the Bush administration. Reportedly, on the energy task force and stimulus package.
Now, I think I know how this works.
Let's stipulate first that Enron didn't seem to have much difficulty getting its calls returned at the Bush White House or getting its views understood. The standard good government criticism of this would be that Gillespie didn't have a 'cooling off period' before lobbying his old friends. That misses the point. This sounds a lot more like Gillespie was continuing to work for the Bush White House. He just got put on Enron's payroll.