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WorldCom: Another Clinton Probe

Will former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s political ghost come back to haunt today’s leaders as the WorldCom storm brews over Washington?

June 28, 2002

Will former U.S. President Bill Clinton's political ghost come back to haunt today's leaders as the WorldCom storm brews over Washington?

Clinton is once more in the news. But for once, it is not William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States of America.

Rather, it is Clinton, Mississippi, a quaint southern town which has the misfortune of hosting the headquarters of WorldCom.

WorldCom, the troubled telecoms giant, has been much in the news lately for having cooked its books to the tune of almost $4 billion dollars.

Criminal charges have already been filed against the company by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

So, there is going to be another Clinton probe, along with Congressional hearings — and much hand-wringing both on America’s left and right. How depressingly familiar.

And again, this Clinton probe could turn up the political heat on the White House.

The reason is that the Bush administration is increasingly worried about its public image. The public has always viewed Republicans as the party that is friendly to big business. And Mr. Bush’s famous fundraising prowess — and all those fat checks from corporate America — does little to dispel that perception.

So far, Mr. Bush has escaped blame for Enron — and for a half-dozen other highly visible business debacles.

Yet, there is a growing feeling in Washington that it is only a matter of time until U.S. voters may start wondering about the Bush Administration's chummy relationship with Big Business.

This is all the more relevant since many Americans are experiencing painful declines in their retirement savings due to continuing corporate scandals.

A popular backlash against business therefore might impact the Bush Administration as well. In his first two years, Mr. Bush has been lauded by the U.S. press as the first MBA to be elected President.

He has been said to run his government like an efficient corporation, delegating authority to a group of can-do managerial types.

There are plenty of former high-level corporate executives among Mr. Bush's key advisors and cabinet appointees. In fact, many leading members of his Administration have been shuttling between high government and private business posts for the past 20 years.

Not that any of them are accused of unethical behavior. But the public has started to suspect that, instead of maximizing shareholders' value, a disturbing number of business leaders are playing fast and loose with the rules of corporate governance — and stuffing their own pockets.

Under such suspicions, public opinion of the Bush Administration may change for the worse. No wonder then that nervousness in the White House is increasing. But, of course, those hallowed halls are quite used to damage-control efforts — not least from their previous occupant