GOP donor Enron moves money to Democrats just before bankruptcy; Washington lawyer Robert Bennett hired by company

Thursday, December 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A week before filing for bankruptcy protection, Enron Corp. contributed $100,000 to Democrats after giving nearly all its prior donations this year to Republicans.

The money went to the organization that aids Senate Democratic candidates, but a recently hired attorney for Enron insisted the donations were unrelated to congressional investigations.

Attorney Robert Bennett, who represented former President Clinton and other high-profile clients, said the money was pledged months before Enron's collapse prompted the congressional inquiries. Rather, he said, the shift reflected the Democrats taking control of the Senate this year.

``Donations of this type reflect certain political realities which are followed by all major corporations,'' Bennett said Wednesday about Enron's $50,000 checks on Nov. 25 and Nov. 26 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Enron filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Dec. 2.

Tovah Ravitz-Meehan, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senate fund-raising committee, said the head of the organization, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has asked that Enron's money be given to a charitable organization. She said the committee is trying to find an organization that would help laid-off Enron workers.

``It wasn't right to keep it and it wasn't right to give it back to Enron so we're looking for charitable options,'' Ravitz-Meehan said.

Congressional Republicans and Democrats alike have heaped criticism on Enron, accusing the company of burning stockholders who were unaware of the company's failing condition, throwing thousands of people out of work and decimating retirement accounts.

This week, Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee demanded that the Federal Trade Commission investigate why company executives were allowed to cash out their stock while other employees were prevented from selling the company's sinking shares in their retirement accounts.

Bennett said it would be ``very unfair to draw any improper motive based on these contributions. While the money was given in November, a large portion of it had been committed as far back as September.''

Before the contributions to the Democrats, Enron this year had contributed $173,000 to candidates and parties, with almost 90 percent going to Republicans.

Since the 1989-90 election cycle, Enron has made nearly $5.8 million in campaign contributions, 73 percent to Republicans.

The contributions were compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, an organization that tracks campaign finance issues.

In addition to the corporate donations, federal reports show Enron chairman and chief executive Kenneth Lay donated $250,000 to the Republican Party during President Bush's campaign and raised at least $100,000 for Bush from other donors.

The Justice Department is investigating Houston-based Enron for possible criminal conduct. The Labor Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission are conducting civil investigations.

Bennett will represent Enron in dealings with Congress, the news media and investigators.

He represented Clinton in the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Paula Jones, and was the Senate ethics committee's counsel in the investigation of five senators with ties to a failed savings and loan operator.