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Enron

01/30/02 12:00AM By Madeleine M. Kunin

The Enron debacle is so big, so wide, so deep, that it calls for something more than old-fashioned outrage.

It's time to turn outrage into action.

It's important to dissect and put under a microscope this monster of a corporation, which gleamed with bright invincibility in the Houston sun.

The culprit is not hard to find; it's called money.

Money to exaggerate profits, and money to keep the government at bay.

Since 1988, some six million dollars of it was spread around to every key decision-maker who could have had some influence on the future profitability of Enron.

President Bush alone was the recipient of 100,000 dollars as a candidate for governor and for President.

At first, President Bush and his cabinet demurred when criticized for the largesse of their Enron gifts because they said they hadn't responded to telephone requests for help.

The President missed the point. The corporate crisis is upon us because Enron got what it wanted for years - and that was deregulation.

Enron and its partner Arthur Anderson got rid of the regulatory cops who usually walked this beat. Without them, they could get away with skulduggery which only now is coming to light.

It's not the one phone call or one contribution that counts; it's the ongoing cozy relationship amongst Enron, Arthur Anderson, and elected and appointed officials.

At the tip of the iceberg, we see 800 - that's 800 - off-shore tax shelters: corporate losses kept off the books to make Enron look like a sweet deal for investors, when in fact it was turning sour.

The two greatest sins were that top management sold their stock in time to become rich, while their middle-class employees were told to wait - until they were poor.

The second unpardonable sin, which makes every taxpayer wince, is that Enron paid no federal income taxes in four of the past five years.

And what did they do once they knew the jig was up? Run for the shredder.

Some 80 employees made those machines hum day and night and weekends.

Then there was the Enron number one auditor, David Duncan, who took the Fifth Amendment rather than tell the truth; Kenneth Lay, the CEO who resigned; and, sadly, a top corporate suicide.

What is needed is a cop back on the beat and a true accounting of what happened. With eleven Congressional committees investigating this scandal, there's a good chance that we will learn a great deal. The Congress is highly motivated to be a tough inquisitor, if only to prove that its own contributions from Enron do not curb their zeal.

There's one bit of good news to emerge from this Shakespearean tragedy: campaign finance reform. It has just received a fresh whiff of oxygen.

With the help of 20 Republicans, House Democrats obtained 218 signatures to bring campaign finance reform to the floor of the House.

Yes, it's a partial answer, but an important one. After years of opposition, we may get the tools to ban soft money. That's a scrub-brush to help clean up this sullied corporate saga.

This is Madeleine Kunin from Burlington.

--Madeleine Kunin is a former Governor of Vermont.
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