The End of Enronomics

Many chips still are falling from the collapse of Enron. The 401(k) laws, for instance, will need to be adjusted to protect workers. New rules must govern how companies hide debt and how accounting firms maintain integrity.

But one political lesson to be learned from the nation's biggest bankruptcy is that big money still buys big access in Washington, be it under Democrats or Republicans.

How many Enron workers, who were barred from selling their pension-related company stock, could have reached the Treasury secretary or Commerce secretary by phone the way Enron's CEO did? And were workers' interests considered when Robert Rubin, former Treasury secretary under Clinton, called his former department on behalf of Enron?

A thin line exists between officials giving access to rich political donors and doing them favors.

So far, it appears no administration officials did any favors for Enron.

But most politicians still don't realize how much they damage democracy when they grant an open door to big donors. Members of the House and Senate who took money from Enron for their campaigns are now scrambling to return it. Why did they take it in the first place? And how many members who didn't take money will be left to investigate all the aspects of the Enron debacle?

Before Washington uses Enron as another tiresome scandal spectacle, it should focus on one thing: getting the House to pass the Shays-Meehan bill that reduces the role of special-interest money in elections. The Senate has passed the bill, while the House leadership has blocked a vote.

Washington shouldn't cast stones at Enron until it makes sure its own bankrupt ways of using big money are blameless.

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