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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 31, 2002

Too much policy is made in secret

Congress, through its General Accounting Office, is absolutely right in its plan to sue the White House for access to records of secret meetings at which the Bush administration planned its energy policy.

And while they are at it, they might ask for records of the previous administration's private discussions with energy company officials, environmentalists and others.

What is emerging is a pattern of policy-making that skips the vital step of openly consulting with the American people. And a central character in all this is the energy giant Enron Corp., which recently collapsed.

Vice President Dick Cheney, who chaired many of the energy policy meetings, says there was no discussion of Enron's financial problems or prospects. If that is the case, the records of the closed-door meetings should make that obvious.

But at this point we don't know. We do know that Enron did its best to affect public policy both openly and not so openly through massive campaign contributions and the insider access those contributions bought.

For starters, this must signal Congress that it is time to get serious about campaign spending reform. Clearly Enron did not get its way on everything it wanted or needed, but the massive flood of contributions to both Democrats and Republicans bought access that private citizens can only dream about.

Ironically, one of its early successes — which was actually reversed when the Bush administration came to power — involved the Clinton administration and the Kyoto Protocol on global warming.

Contrary to what one might think, Enron was keenly interested in seeing the Kyoto Protocol adopted by the United States, and according to writer George C. Landrith, actively lobbied former Vice President Al Gore for just that result.

Landrith, president of Frontiers of Freedom, which describes itself as a "conservative political advocacy organization," said Enron liked the Kyoto treaty because it proposed allowing polluters to buy "emission credits" to nations with low carbon dioxide emissions.

Enron, by then already less an energy company than an energy broker, saw itself in the profitable middle of such business. In this case, Enron's activity in campaign funding didn't pay off. The Senate rejected the treaty, and President Bush said he would not go along with the treaty.

So one might argue that this case demonstrates that big money speaks no louder than the average voter. But you would be wrong.

Enron may have lost this round, and its own business practices may have brought it down. But there's no question that it sought to buy influence.

And until there is responsible and practical campaign reform, the buying and selling of influence will go on and on.