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15 Bush officials owned Enron stock

And 250 lawmakers received funds from the bankrupt firm

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WASHINGTON — At least 15 high-ranking Bush administration officials owned Enron stock last year, and more than 250 members of Congress received political contributions from the now-bankrupt energy company, two government watchdog groups said Friday.

Also Friday, congressional investigators picked up the pace of their probes into Enron Corp. as a Senate oversight committee issued 51 subpoenas to the bankrupt energy giant and to Arthur Andersen, its outside accounting firm.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and chairman of the permanent subcommittee on investigations of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, issued 51 subpoenas Friday to officials of Enron and Arthur Andersen, seeking personal notes, legal documents and other paperwork.

Among those receiving a subpoena was Wendy Gramm, wife of Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas. Wendy Gramm, a former chairwoman of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, was asked for documents in her capacity as a member of the Enron board, staff aides said. Her husband has been one of the top recipients of Enron campaign contributions.

The Enron stockholders included Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, senior Bush adviser Karl Rove, deputy EPA administrator Linda Fisher, Treasury Undersecretary Peter Fisher and U.S. Trade Rep. Robert Zoellick.

Army Secretary Thomas White, who was not included in the watchdog analysis of administration officials, was Enron's vice chairman before his assuming his Pentagon post and owned between $50 million and $100 million worth of stock.

In addition to the Bush officials who owned Enron stock, at least two officials had professional ties to Enron, according to an analysis of financial disclosures by the Center for Public Integrity.

White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey served as a consultant to Enron when he was managing director of Economic Strategies Inc., a consulting firm. Zoellick also served on the advisory council, earning $50,000 a year.

The report did not specify which officials sold their stock before Enron's financial collapse in December, but at least two, Rove and White, have disclosed that they did. Enron shares, which traded as high as $83 last year, are now worth less than $1.

White, whose stock was valued between $50 million and $100 million, announced that he sold his stock before taking his post with the Army last year. Rove sold his shares, worth between $100,000 and $250,000, early last year to comply with federal ethics rules.

Bill Allison, managing editor of the Center for Public Integrity, said there are other companies that have ties as far-reaching as Enron — but probably not very many.

"This is a fairly revealing look at how many administration people, who are in decision-making positions, had a significant interest in Enron," Allison said. "The company obviously has powerful ties."

In Congress, 71 senators and 187 House members received political contributions between 1989 and 2001, according to an analysis of federal election documents by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The top recipients in the Senate are from Texas where Enron is based. Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison topped the list receiving $99,500 over the period. Sen. Phil Gramm was second, with $97,350.

Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., accepted $23,200 during the period, and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who sits on two committees planning hearings on the collapse of Enron, accepted almost $23,000 in contributions, according to the report.

Of the 10 House members who received the most money from Enron, six were Democrats and most were from Texas. The top recipients were both Democrats, Rep. Ken Bentsen, with $42,750, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, with $38,000.

Rep. Joe L. Barton, R-Texas, got $28,909, and fellow Texas Republican Rep. Tom DeLay got $28,900.

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., was 10th on the list, receiving $9,000. Dingell is the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a panel with jurisdiction over the Enron case.

Other government officials have also had strong financial ties to Enron.

Before John Ashcroft became attorney general, Enron executives donated more than $50,000 to his fund-raising committees in his unsuccessful campaign for Senate re-election in 2000. Ashcroft has stepped aside from the Justice Department investigation of Enron.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott's re-election campaign accepted $1,000 from Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay in May 1999, according to Federal Election Commission records. Enron gave another $1,000 in September 1999 to Celebration 2000, Lott's leadership political action committee, a group that helped other candidates.

"I never quite understood what Enron did," Lott said in an interview in Jackson, Miss. "I thought they were sort of a pipeline."

The government launched several investigations into the financial collapse of Enron after thousands of workers were laid off and many saw their retirement nest eggs vanish.


On the Net: Center for Public Integrity: www.public-i.org/index.htm

Congressional Report: www.cnsnews.com/specialreports/2002/enron2.asp.

Contributing: The Boston Globe