Enron donated to investigators

WASHINGTON -- Members of seven congressional committees investigating the collapse of Enron took more than $700,000 in campaign donations from the company over the past dozen years. Some have returned the money, but none has disqualified himself from the inquiry.

Among the 118 congressional investigators, Texas' two Republican senators, Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison, are the two biggest beneficiaries of the Houston-based energy company's contributions.

Gramm, the former chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, received $97,350. He is the senior GOP member on the panel and also sits on the Senate Finance Committee. Both committees have begun Enron investigations.

Gramm's wife, Wendy, is on Enron's board and audit committee and has been named in a lawsuit by investors against Enron executives and directors.

"He has not seen the scope of the proposed hearings and has yet to make a decision" on taking part, said Gramm spokesman Larry Neal.

The Texas senator, who is retiring in January, has begun returning his 2002 campaign donations, and that probably includes Enron donations, Neal said.

Hutchison, who sits on the Commerce Committee, accepted $99,500 from Enron from 1989 through 2001. She said Thursday she would donate $100,000 to a charitable organization for laid-off Enron workers. She also said she would stay involved in investigating Enron.

"I am deeply concerned about the situation in which Enron employees and retirees have found themselves, especially regarding their pensions and other benefits," she said. "These are my constituents and they have borne the brunt of the problem at Enron."

Nearly half of Congress

Enron donated to 71 senators and 188 House members -- nearly half of Congress -- according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The 118 Senate and House members on the committees that have expressed interest in investigating Enron took $722,749 from the company or its officials, according to an AP analysis of the center's data.

Some lawmakers are moving to distance themselves from Enron by returning the donations or giving like amounts to charity.

For example, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., a member of the Commerce Committee, will donate an equivalent amount to Habitat for Humanity of Kansas City.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., received $2,000. "I don't feel at all compromised," said the senator, who is leading the Governmental Affairs investigation.

Lieberman's former chief of staff, Michael Lewan, lobbied for Enron earlier this year, holding three meetings with the senator's staff members but not with Lieberman.

Auditing firm fired

In other Enron news, the company has fired accounting firm Arthur Andersen as the feuding corporations both came under growing scrutiny for their roles in the collapse of the world's largest energy trading company.

Enron cited Andersen's destruction of thousands of documents and its accounting advice. For its part, Andersen said its relationship with Enron ended in December when the company filed for bankruptcy.

Enron's announcement came just hours after the House Energy and Commerce Committee demanded that Andersen provide more documents detailing what the auditors knew about Enron's use of questionable partnership to keep hundreds of millions of dollars in debt off the company's books.