WASHINGTON – Maryland lawmakers got more than $79,000 in contributions from bankrupt energy giant Enron Corp. and its embattled auditor, Arthur Andersen, between 1989 and 2001, federal documents show.
Andersen gave a total of $77,199 to both Maryland senators and five House members from the state, while Enron gave $2,125 to Maryland lawmakers over the 12 years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The biggest recipients in Maryland were Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who got $15,250 from Andersen and $1,000 from Enron; and Rep. Constance Morella, R-Bethesda, who got $17,399 from Andersen and $1,000 from Enron.
Maryland lawmakers were not alone. The center said more than half of the House members and 94 senators received campaign contributions from Arthur Andersen over the last decade.
“Virtually every elected official is having to justify to their constituents that the money they got from Enron and/or Andersen, if any, isn’t going to affect their objectivity,” said Steven Weiss, a spokesman with the Center for Responsive Politics. The non-profit center looks at campaign finance reports to track the effect of money on elections and public policy.
“There are some members of Congress that got much more than $7,000 and there are some that got much less,” Weiss said. “But each member of Congress is facing the challenges that they are going to be objective.”
The response of Maryland’s lawmakers to that challenge has varied. Mikulski said she will donate $1,000 to the Fuel Fund of Maryland but others said the money was given properly and they planned to keep it.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, got a total of $11,700 from Andersen between 1989 and 2001. But returning that money “would indicate that there was something more going on than a simple campaign contribution, which there clearly wasn’t and isn’t,” said Stacey Farnen, his spokeswoman.
“People contribute to Mr. Hoyer’s campaign because they think he is a good member of Congress and they agree with his ideas and ideals, and that’s the end of the story,” Farnen said.
Of Mikulski’s Andersen donations, $2,000 came in the 1999-2000 election cycle. Her $1,000 from Enron, which she will donate to the Fuel Fund, came in the 1991-1992 election cycle.
“Enron Corp.’s conduct, particularly toward employees, is shameful,” Mikulski said in a statement Friday. But since Andersen’s role in the shenanigans is still unfolding, Mikulski said she “will make a decision about their contribution as more facts are disclosed.”
Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., received a total of $7,000 from the accounting firm, all of it during the 1993-1994 election cycle. Sarbanes is also chairman of the Banking Committee, but the fact that he accepted money from Andersen “will have no impact on his objectivity,” said spokesman Jesse Jacobs.
“Objectivity has been one of the hallmarks of the senator as a member of the United States Congress,” Jacobs said.
Sarbanes has already scheduled hearings for Feb. 12 and Feb. 26 to look at accounting issues and investor protection in the wake of the Enron debacle.
Other Maryland lawmakers to receive Andersen donations over the last 12 years include Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore, who received $15,350; Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-Timonium, who got $4, 500; and Albert Wynn, D-Largo, who got $6,000.
Wynn was the only Marylander besides Mikulski and Morella to get money from Enron, receiving $125 in 1997-98.
The five House members received contributions of $3,000 to $3,500 from Andersen in the 1999-2000 election cycle.
Ehrlich’s political director, Paul Schurick, said the money from Andersen “was a decision made by the Andersen employee PAC — a decision to support his (Ehrlich’s) candidacy. . . . I can think of no reason to return that money,” Schurick said.
While Enron’s giving was concentrated on big soft-money gifts to the national political parties, Andersen funds were often targeted directly at members of Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Attorney General John Ashcroft recently recused himself from the Justice Department’s probe of Enron, which gave him $57,499 for his failed 2000 Senate campaign. Nearly half of the total — $25,000 — was given by Enron CEO Kenneth Lay to and another $25,000 went directly from Enron to the Ashcroft Victory Committee.
If the government asked that everyone who accepted money from Andersen and or Enron recused themselves from any Enron-related hearing, like Ashcroft did, there would be no one left on the relevant committees to conduct a hearing, said Jeff Cronin, a spokesman for Common Cause.
Cronin said the recent revelations about the level of campaign spending by companies like Enron and Andersen point out the need for campaign finance reform.
“To absolve themselves from any taint in the Enron matter, they (members of Congress) should support campaign finance reform,” he said.
“The real issue here is that we must pass campaign finance reform legislation,” she said in a prepared statement.