NEW WHITE HOUSE SCANDAL SHOCKER
ANNALS OF ENRON
An MWO Continuing Feature
VEEP'S FIRM COLLAPSING OVER ASBESTOS LAWSUITS
Big-Time Payoffs to G.O.P. Pols
Panic On Pennsylvania Avenue
Halliburton: Enron II
(Washington, D.C., Jan. 21, 2002: Special to MWO)
The lid has just about blown off this already tense capital city with breaking news of the possible impending collapse of Vice-President Cheney's old firm, Halliburton Company of Dallas, Texas.
With its stock value in free fall for months, Halliburton is reported on the edge of doom, thanks to a mountain of asbestos lawsuits linked to its 1998 acquisition, under then-CEO Cheney, of Dressler Industries. The company has paid out more than $150 million in recent damages for asbestos cases -- and has about 260,000 related lawsuits still pending. More than $19 billion in Halliburton shareholder value has vanished since the summer of 2001 -- an undisclosed amount of it in employee 401(k) plans and other pension funds.
To try and stem off the disaster, Halliburton has given huge gobs of money to former and present Congressional Republicans in order to gain favorable deregulation rulings and other breaks. Among the more prominent names caught up in the Halliburton political operation, apart from Cheney, are former Missouri Senator and current Attorney General John Ashcroft and House Majority Leader, Dick Armey of Texas.
Both stock-watchers and political heavyweights are nervously awaiting Halliburton's release of its latest earnings report, now scheduled for Wednesday. Bad news could lead to allegations of fraud and mismanagement like the ones that have befallen Enron..
Confidence in Halliburton and its imminent statement is all the shakier given that the firm's accountant is none other than Arthur Andersen LLB -- the same outfit mixed up in destroying documents and defrauding shareholders in the Enron affair.
Non-partisan watchdog groups warn than Halliburton shows all the signs of becoming another Enron.
"Halliburton is just as vulnerable to collapse but doesn't get much scrutiny," said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice. "We definitely
should be alarmed."
So, apparently, should the White House and the Republican Party -- big time.
According to public records, Halliburton and Cheney funneled nearly $500,000 to congressional candidates from 1997 to 2000, including more than $150, 000 to members of Congress sponsoring legislation that would limit the ability of workers to sue companies for asbestos exposure. The vast majority of the money has gone to Republicans -- just as, not surprisingly, did the great bulk of the company's contributions in the last presidential campaign.
Of special interest are Halliburton's payouts in connection with the highly controversial Fairness in Asbestos Compensation Act, a piece of legislation so outrageous that it has not yet passed the Congress. Halliburton gave big money to 49 of the 77 lawmakers who in 2000 co-sponsored the act in the House of Representatives and 14 of 29 co-sponsors of similar legislation in the Senate.
Halliburton's spending on the bill was intensely partisan, including 46 House Republicans and only three House Democrats, along with 14 Senate Republicans and no Senate Democrats.
Of the more than $150,000 Halliburton doled out over the asbestos bill, all but $3500 went to Republicans -- a pro-Republican division of 98% to 2%.
Among the top beneficiaries were Tom De Lay (R-TX, $5500), Dick Armey (R-TX, $6000), and J.C. Watts (R-OK, $7000).
Cheney, as an individual, donated $12,500 to members who sponsored or co-sponsored the asbestos bill.
A Halliburton spokeswoman, Zelma Branch, told reporters that the contributions were "purely coincidental."
Further complicating matters, while Halliburton, under Cheney, pressed for radical deregulation, it also fed richly at the federal trough, benefiting from at least $3.8 billion in federal contracts and taxpayer-insured loans between 1995 and 2000.
If he were to become vice president, one Halliburton official who admires Cheney but asked to remain anonymous said in 2000, "the company’s government contracts would obviously go through the roof." But the company's demise now could well bring close scrutiny to its government contracts, both before and after Cheney and George W. Bush "won" the disputed 2000 election.
There were some scattered press reports about Halliburton during the 2000 campaign, no more. Even though charged by consumers and workers' groups with being an integral part of an asbestos industry which knowingly poisoned its own workers for years, Halliburton escaped media scrutiny. Reporters were too busy tracking down every last detail of Al Gore's "exaggerations" and the phony Buddhist Temple non-scandal to pay much mind to Dick Cheney and Halliburton -- to say nothing of Halliburton's hundreds of thousands of victims, Americans who are today riddled with cancer and other diseases which could have been prevented, except for Halliburton's immoral worship of the bottom line.
Now, just maybe, the press will start paying attention.
Or it will come Wednesday.
U.S. embassies assisted Cheney firm. (Associated Press, Oct. 26, 2000)
Cheney's standard of living soars in private sector. (Los Angeles Times, Oct. 19, 2000)