Filling in for host Brit Hume on Special Report with Brit Hume on July 9, FOX News correspondent and substitute host Brian Wilson attempted to downplay the significance of President George W. Bush's personal and business ties to former Enron Corp. chairman and CEO Kenneth Lay by emphasizing the minimal ties Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, had to the embattled businessman.
From the July 9 edition of FOX News Channel's Special Report with Brit Hume:
WILSON: John Kerry has accused the Bush administration of dragging its feet in the investigation of former Enron chairman Ken Lay, suggesting that Lay's ties as a friendly contributor to President Bush were to blame. But Lay attended a reception at the Georgetown town house shared by Kerry and his wife Teresa 10 months after the Enron scandal became public. Kerry was out of town at the time. What's more, Lay continued to serve with Teresa Heinz Kerry on a charity board, even after he was implicated in the alleged fraud. The "Boston Herald" reports that the Kerrys owned more than $250,000 in Enron stock before the company's collapse.
Wilson's remarks echoed Republican Party talking points, which surfaced the same day Kerry denounced the delay in indicting Lay while on the campaign trail. As The New York Times reported on July 10, "Steven Schmidt, a Bush spokesman, said: 'The Kerry campaign's political attack is baseless and hypocritical. Ten months after Enron went bankrupt, Ken Lay was dining at Kerry's Georgetown home.'"
While it is true that Lay and Heinz Kerry both served on The H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economic and the Environment Board of Trustees -- which includes, according to The New York Times, "representatives of government, scientists, environmentalists and businesspeople" -- all board members were invited to attend the dinner (to which Wilson referred) at the Kerrys' Georgetown residence on September 23, 2002.
Wilson's second piece of evidence suggesting ties between Kerry and Lay was that the Kerrys owned "more than $250,000 in Enron stock before the company's collapse." However, Wilson neglected to mention how long before the company's collapse the Kerrys sold their stock in Enron. As the Boston Herald reported, the stock was sold in 1997 -- four years before the company's collapse.
While Wilson sought to suggest a link between Enron and Kerry, the connections between President Bush and Lay/Enron are wide-ranging. According to the Center for Public Integrity, Enron was Bush's top lifetime contributor until January 2004, when it was surpassed by MBNA Corp. In 2000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Bush received $113,800 from Enron's PAC and employees, compared with only $13,750 contributed to Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore. Bush's $113,800 from Enron does not include $312,500 from Enron's PAC and employees to Bush's 1994 and 1998 Texas gubernatorial campaigns; $300,000 from Enron's PAC and employees, including a $100,000 contribution from Lay and his wife, Linda, to the Bush-Cheney 2001 Inaugural Fund; and $10,000 from Lay and his wife to the Bush-Cheney 2000 [Florida] Recount Fund. In contrast, the Boston Herald reported that Kerry has received $1,250 from employees of Enron ($1,000 of which he returned when the Kerry campaign learned that the employee who wrote the check was accused of wrongdoing).
In addition, Center for Responsive Politics also reported that Enron provided Bush with 14 private jet flights during the campaign, including two after Election Day. Robert Bryce, author of Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego, and the Death of Enron (PublicAffairs, 2002) and Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America's Superstate (PublicAffairs, 2004), wrote the following in a washingtonpost.com online discussion: "According to the [Bush-Cheney] campaign's IRS filings, Enron's jets were used 4 different times during the period that covers the [Florida] recount."
Bryce also documented the numerous individuals with connections to both the Bush administration and Enron:
A partial list of people with direct Enron ties to the Bush administration includes: Tom White, former secretary of the Army, was at Enron Energy Services, a company that was little more than a sham from the get go. Ed Gillespie, current head of the Republican National Committee, was an Enron lobbyist. Marc Racicot, former head of the RNC, was an Enron lobbyist. Robert Zoellick, current US Trade Representative, worked for Enron as an adviser. James Baker III, former secretary of state -- and the man who was crucial to Bush's win in Florida -- was an Enron lobbyist.
As has been widely reported, Lay was a close personal friend of President Bush, who nicknamed him "Kenny Boy." Bryce also noted a 2001 meeting between Vice President Dick Cheney and Lay and stated that "Enron had about a dozen different contacts with Cheney's task force. And the result of all those meetings were several provisions in the task force report that were very favorable to Enron."