Enron wooed Gore along with Bush

Company tried to ensure influence with whoever became president

February 18, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Enron quietly drew up a plan to cultivate close political ties to Vice President Al Gore during the 2000 presidential race and tried to build relationships with his inner circle, even though the company was one of the biggest campaign contributors to then-Gov. George W. Bush and the Republicans.

The double-sided strategy was intended to ensure that Enron, the Houston-based energy company that has filed for bankruptcy protection, wielded influence with the next president, whoever he was, according to internal company documents and interviews with officials at Enron and from the Gore campaign.

In May 2000, shortly after Gore was assured of the Democratic nomination, Enron hired Sally A. Painter, a public relations executive, who drafted a "six-month action plan for Enron" for "Democratic political outreach in the 2000 presidential election," the documents show.

Painter identified influential advisers at the Gore headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., and in Washington whom she said Enron officials should get to know. Her plan called for writing briefs on issues important to Enron for Gore's staff and for Enron to play an "active and visible role" at the Democratic National Convention. She also suggested that Enron "actively participate in campaign activities on the ground in a key swing state."

If Gore were elected, Painter said, Enron should "participate in senior team for inaugural planning."

In the summer of 2000, Enron hired one of Gore's old friends and a longtime financial supporter, Charles W. Bone. Bone, with contacts in Washington and at the Tennessee Valley Authority, helped Enron settle a bitter contractual dispute with the TVA. The suit was settled in January 2001 for more than $200 million. Enron never disclosed the settlement to the public, though TVA did.

Former Enron officials said an important part of their strategy to win favor with the Gore campaign was a significant increase in the company's donations to Democrats. Enron documents outlined this approach; they show that in 1999 and 2000 the company gave $426,500 in soft-money donations to Republicans and $362,000 to Democrats.

But Enron continued to give much more to Bush than to Gore. In all, it gave Gore's campaign $13,750 and Bush's $113,800, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Enron also gave $250,000 to the host committee for the Republican convention in Philadelphia, and in 1999 and 2000, Kenneth L. Lay, then chairman of Enron, gave $250,000 in what the documents described as "personal money to the RNC," the Republican National Committee.

The documents and interviews with officials at Enron and with the Gore campaign illuminate the Enron executives' determination to cultivate bipartisan relationships at the highest levels of politics.

In what one Enron official recalled as a desire to "have Enron's message become part of the energy and telecom policy of the Gore campaign," the company organized a dinner in the private Nest Lounge of the Willard Hotel, two blocks from the White House, that included top Gore and Enron officials as well as executives of the high-technology industry.

Asked in an interview why he thought he was hired by Enron, Bone joked, "It's because of my brilliant skills and great personality." But he acknowledged that he and Gore "go way back to his first campaign in '76." Bone also said: "You never know a lot of times why people call to ask for your help. But all corporations try to make some effort to know the people on both sides of the aisle. It's just about relationships."

There is no evidence that officials at Enron or in the Gore campaign acted improperly.

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