Enron's Democrat Pals

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Before its messy decline and fall, Enron had plenty of clout in George W. Bush's Washington, from the personal ties between chairman Ken Lay and the President to the company's alleged influence on Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force. But Enron's cozy relationship with Washington didn't start there. Documents obtained by TIME show the energy giant enjoyed much closer ties with Clinton Administration regulators than was generally known. Long before Cheney's task force met with Enron officials and included their ideas in Bush's energy plan, Clinton's energy team was doing much the same thing. Drafting a 1995 plan to help facilitate cash flow and credit for energy producers, it asked for Enron's input—and listened. The staff was directed to "rework the proposal to take into account the specific comments and suggestions you made," Clinton Deputy Energy Secretary Bill White wrote an Enron official.

Clinton officials also made efforts to help Enron get business overseas. Clinton Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary included Enron officials on trade missions to India, China, Pakistan and South Africa. White, returning from a 1994 trip to Mexico, wrote chairman Lay that "much opportunity" existed there for natural gas, and he sent a copy of Mexico's energy plans. To persuade an Enron senior vice president to join a mission to Pakistan, White wrote, "I have strong personal relationships with the existing government."

Enron showed its gratitude. At Christmas 1995, documents show, it donated an unknown sum of cash in O'Leary's name to a charity called "I Have a Dream." And when Clinton ran for re-election a year later, the company made its largest single contribution ever—$100,000—to the President's party.