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Buy a dozen, they're inexpensive
Jack Balshaw 2/27/02

There have been many stories in the newspapers and on TV lately about Enron's campaign contributions to elected officials. Much of Enron's money was in the form of "soft money" to the political parties and not to individuals. But, we can only assume the goodwill of individual senators and representatives towards Enron would be mostly related to specific contributions they received from Enron.

Most people are outraged at this attempt to buy a legislator's goodwill to obtain favorable consideration for Enron's interests. I'm outraged also, but not for the same reason as most people. I'm outraged at how cheaply these people can be bought.

Below is a breakdown of some of the contributions as reported in various media. Some members are on several committees and so benefit from more than one contribution.

51 of 56 members of the House Energy committee received $400,000 (400K) over 11 years. This averages $713 per year. This doesn't seem too expensive to obtain access to an elected official and is a bargain if favorable legislation results.

No doubt, senior members or chairmen of committees would get more than junior members. This means that junior members would receive even less than that average of $713 per year.

49 of 70 members of the House Financial Services committee received $300K over 10 years, an average of only $612 a year.

187 other House members received $600K over 10 years, or $320 per year on average.

In the Senate, 71 members received $530K over 10 years, or $746 /year.

The two Senators from Texas, Phil Graham and Kay Hutchinson, averaged $17,000 and $8250 per year. But, they're both from Texas and so is Enron.

While I don't feel these numbers add up in too meaningful a way, I do think they indicate that any goodwill bought through contributions was bought at a low price. I'm sure there were lobbyists attending fund raising lunches and corporate planes used at bargain rates, but overall, the money contributed to individual legislators doesn't seem to be a large amount.

If we remember that, in the proposed economic stimulus legislation, Enron would have received a $264 million tax rebate, then these corporate contributions are peanuts for the company. Of course, monies contributed by the entire energy industry and the entire accounting and banking industries would be more impressive than those I noted above as direct from Enron.

My overall impression, however, is that our legislators provide at least access and possibly consideration of favorable legislation to these corporate contributors for a relatively small donation to their campaigns. And also, benefits received by the special interest contributors are many many times what they pay out in contributions. Perhaps if we could just get our legislators to give less away in return for political contributions we would come out way ahead.

I recall a comment that, " If government can't eliminate vice, it should at least see that some public good can come of it." Along these lines, government taxes alcohol, tobacco and gambling. Maybe what we need to have included in Federal campaign finance reform is a requirement that say 5% of all money spent for political advertising has to be passed through to fund C-Span or public broadcasting. In that way at least some good would come from special interest contributions. And if C-Span or PBS had independent funding, who knows what type of in-depth reporting they might do.

Isn't that the deal we made regarding the California lottery? You can have a lottery but a fixed amount must be passed through to education? If this were done, no matter what loopholes might be found in future campaign finance regulations, a percentage of dollars would still flow to the public good.


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