What kind of scandal is this supposed to be again?

Conventional wisdom (scroll to “The Gating Factor”), even in Blogland, appears to be settling on the idea that the Enron mess is a business scandal, not a political scandal. That may be true, but with all of the money that Kenny Boy and Company poured into politics and the access to the high and mighty that they had, it’s way too early to discount the possibility of political laws being skirted or broken. For example, there’s this story, which says that top Bush political advisor Karl Rove helped Republican strategist Ralph Reed land a consulting contract at Enron while Dubya was deciding whether or not to run.

The Rove associates say the recommendation, which Enron accepted, was intended to keep Reed’s allegiance to the Bush campaign without putting him on the Bush payroll. Bush, they say, was then developing his “compassionate conservatism” message and did not want to be linked too closely to Reed, who had just stepped down as executive director of the Christian Coalition, an organization of committed religious conservatives.

At the same time, they say, the contract discouraged Reed, a prominent operative who was being courted by several other campaigns, from backing anyone other than Bush.

Enron paid Reed $10,000 to $20,000 a month, the amount varying by year and the particular work, people familiar with the arrangement say. He was hired in September 1997 and worked intermittently for Enron until the company collapsed.

If this is true – Rove predictably denies it – then what this looks like to me is political accounting Enron-style: Team Bush acquired an asset and hid the debt for it in an off-book partnership. You don’t have to be a Democrat to think that this would be a Bad Thing:

“If Karl Rove was partly responsible for [Reed] getting the job at Enron, it illustrates the close relations between the Bush political world and Enron,” said Trevor Potter, a Republican, who is a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission. “If it was done for the avowed reason to keep Reed satisfied and out of someone else’s political camp, it illustrates what everyone in the Republican world has known for years: Enron has been an important source of political power in the party.”

Potter said Reed’s hiring could have been a violation of federal election law if it turned out that “it was a backdoor way of getting him extra compensation for the time he was spending on Bush activity.”

This may indeed turn out to be nothing. All I’m saying is that it’s too early to dismiss the idea that there’s no potential for a political scandal.

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