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No More Enrons: Getting Corporations Out of Politics

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"In public policy, it matters less who has the best arguments and more who gets heard -- and by whom."
-- Ralph Reed, head of the Christian Coalition, in memo to Enron executives, 2000

Enron's money and friendships with politicians such as Tom DeLay (R-TX) and George W. Bush resulted in the company getting all kinds of favors. Examples include:

* A comparison of a memo handed by Enron CEO Ken Lay to Vice President Cheney and Cheney's National Energy Strategy revealed that the White House Energy Strategy incorporated seven of eight policies recommended by the company.

* Both Clinton and Bush administration officials helped Enron with a $3 billion power plant in Dabhol, India that even the World Bank refused to underwrite. Clinton counselor Mack McLarty ordered the U.S. ambassador in New Delhi to keep abreast of the situation and file regular reports directly to Lay. Secretary of State Colin Powell directly lobbied high officials in the Indian government on behalf of Enron.

* Over 50 High-Level Bush Administration Officials Had Ties to Enron.

* According to one report, between 1992 and the time it filed for bankruptcy, Enron received over $7 billion in public financing from 21 agencies and multilateral development banks for 38 projects in 29 countries.

* Enron literally honed its lobbying strategy down to a science. The company used a computer program called "the matrix" that brought a cost-benefit analysis to their effort to seduce politicians and sway bureaucrats. As the Washington Post described it, "with each proposed change in federal regulations, lobbyists punched details into a computer, allowing economists in Houston to calculate just how much a rule change would cost. If the final figure was too high, executives used it as the cue to stoke their vast influence machine, mobilizing lobbyists and dialing up the politicians who had accepted some of Enron's millions in campaign contributions." ("Hard Money, Strong Arms And 'Matrix'," by Joe Stephens, Washington Post, February 10, 2002)

In political and campaign finance reform, there is no magic bullet. But a variety of reforms exist that would reduce the dangerous control that corporations currently have over our political system:

1) Public Financing of Elections. "Public campaign financing" is a term used to describe programs that provide public money or other support to qualified candidates. Public campaign financing levels the playing field by allowing candidates to wage competitive campaigns even though they have no personal wealth or access to corporate money. States like Arizona, Maine and Vermont have passed public financing laws in recent years. For more information see Public Campaign.

2) Overturn the legal doctrines that inhibit our ability to limit campaign spending. Although corporate money has long influenced elections, ever since the Supreme Court's ruling in Buckley v. Valeo (1976) sanctioned a system of unlimited campaign spending in federal elections, spending has risen precipitously. The ruling essentially found that campaign spending is a form of free speech. Although the court also ruled that campaign donations are a different kind of free speech that can be limited, the ruling did not stop the flow of corporate cash, but only created the use of "independent" expenditures and the proliferation of other kinds of unregulated expenditures that have continuously evolved with each attempt to reform campaign finance laws. To understand the importance of overturning Buckley v. Valeo see the The National Voting Rights Institute and Reclaim Democracy.

3) Take Back Our Airwaves and Provide Free Airtime to Qualified Candidates Under the Telecommunications Act, radio and TV broadcasters are given free licenses to broadcast on the public's airwaves so long as they serve the "public convenience and necessity." In a democracy, there is no more important public service than broadcasting of candidates' messages. Yet commercial TV and radio broadcasters have cut down on the amount of coverage, forcing candidates to pay for airtime. Groups like the Alliance for Better Campaigns work to ensure that the public airwaves serve as a forum for open and vibrant political debate, especially among candidates.

For More Information:

Public Campaign
Reclaim Democracy
Center for Voting and Democracy
Common Cause
Campaign Finance Institute
Center for Responsive Politics
National Voting Rights Institute
Fannie Lou Hamer Project

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