Two-Faced Politicians

So who are the profiteers behind California's energy scam?

Why, lordy, lordy, shock of shocks, lookie here: Who was taking home the loot? Follow the trail from the Texas robber barons and past the oilmen in the White House. Where does it lead?

Right to the fancy glass mansions of Barbara Boxer, the Democratic senator from California, and Jane Harman, the Democratic congresswoman from California. Harman, you might remember, was the woman who wanted to be governor of the state.

Back in Washington, this dirty duo has raised Cain about the electricity rip-off, blaming the GOP, demanding action, playing to the crowds. Sputter, sputter.

Back here at home, however, there were other important matters to consider. Like money.

What do we learn when these two members of the congressional millionaires' club file their financial disclosure statements? Oops. Both have been investing, and surely profiting, from the same industry that has California in a chokehold.

The Democratic Party line may get you votes. But I guess getting rich requires investing like a Republican.

Democratic leaders back home may have declared war on the energy producers, but there's profits to be made in consorting with the enemy.

Harman, who represents Redondo Beach, is the wealthiest member of the California congressional delegation. A Los Angeles Times analysis of her filings show assets between $100 million and almost $300 million.

Among her holdings was a stake worth $250,000, more or less, in Enron. Do we need to remind ourselves that Enron is the energy company that has been flogged by Democrats as a black-hearted price gouger?

"I have an extremely aggressive position on price gouging," the congresswoman replied to Times reporters Greg Miller and Edmund Sanders.

Are we supposed to take comfort in that? Which lead do we follow? Her investment leadership or her political leadership? Is there no shame in profiting from the crisis of fellow Californians?

Boxer apparently has been even more active in energy investments. A Times analysis of her holdings turned up dozens of profitable stock transactions in energy companies during 2000, when oil-patch profits soared and California staggered, its big utilities brought to their knees.

Among the companies in which she invested was Duke Energy Corp., another of those bloodthirsty bad guys from the South. At the end of last year, Boxer held about $250,000 in energy investments. She said her total assets were $1.73 million.

Boxer, who relishes her reputation as the people's champion, offered the lamest excuse. The dog ate her homework. A flunky made her investment decisions: her family investment counselor.

Did this counselor not know the client's politics? Was the client too busy to concern herself with the family nest egg? Are we to accept that a politician can have one set of values on the floor of Congress and another in the accountant's office?

That's the whole problem behind California's energy troubles--greed. Ratepayers thought they could get off cheap by letting the market take over and dole out electricity. Energy companies got the better of it, working the markets for maximum earnings, and then some. Two notable California Democrats went along for the ride and took home a share.

No wonder so many people feel a gag reflex when they think about politics.

Maybe you've asked, why do only half the people vote in even the most important elections? This is why.

There is too much righteousness and not enough right-ness in the business.

Both Boxer and Harman point out that their votes and speeches ran counter to their investment interests. In other words, that they acted in the public good. Well, all I can imagine is that they--or their investment counselors--knew very well that the hapless Democratic opposition in Congress was so much hot air. These folks weren't going to rein in the energy barons, at least not right away. So go ahead and make those speeches, pound on the lectern, lock arms with the voters back home. Meanwhile, let's get a little of the bounty for ourselves.

A few weeks ago, as she prepared her financial disclosure, Boxer apparently realized that it wouldn't go down well with her constituents that some of these energy rip-offs were ending up in her bank account. Gee, it wasn't just those cowboys in Texas and North Carolina who were sucking money out of California. California's Democratic pols were in on it too. So Boxer ordered her investment counselor to sell off the energy stocks.

Too late, I say. She made her money and got out just as the energy racket flattened out.

But what about the Republicans? They hold all kinds of energy stocks too. Even the president's top advisors. Yes, they do. But, let's admit it, they also stand up and say they believe in what these energy companies are doing. By contrast, Boxer and Harman would have us believe that the companies were wrong--all the while buying into their schemes.

It seems to me there is a world of difference. If you believe in a company and buy its stock, that's investing. If you think it's wrongheaded but still buy in, you're just another profiteer.

They may call you "honorable" on the floor of Congress. But not here.

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