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Enron's reach in Congress

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No fewer than eight congressional committees are already investigating the debacle, with more likely to take up the issue in coming weeks. Insiders say the investigation will focus on federal oversight of energy trading markets, as well as accounting practices.

The company prospered - and then plunged - largely outside the view of federal regulators.

The probes will examine ties between Enron and the Bush administration, key legislators, and others. Some critics, for example, have questioned the actions of Wendy Gramm, the wife of Texas Sen. Phil Gramm (R), one of the Senate's strongest advocates of deregulation. Mrs. Gramm, as chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, proposed a rule to exempt energy swaps from federal oversight.

The rule was subsequently adopted - after which she resigned to join Enron's board of directors. Enron has contributed $233,000 to Senator Gramm's campaign since 1996, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics.

Gramm isn't the only member of Congress with ties to the company. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 71 sitting senators and 188 sitting members of the House have received money from Enron over the past 10 years, including Democrats as well as Republicans.

Democrat Charles Schumer of New York received more than $21,000 during his campaign to defeat Sen. Al D'Amato. In his campaign, Mr. Schumer supported deregulating electricity as a way to lower consumer prices.

These types of donations, say analysts, while not illegal, can create a perception of impropriety. "Enron has cast into stark relief the whole issue of Washington drowning in soft, unregulated money," says Marshall Wittmann, an analyst at the Hudson Institute. "It is a story of soft money buying access to both parties."

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