President Bush's call to reform corporate America is being complicated by new questions about his own past business dealings. Opposition Democrats are trying to seize the issue in advance of congressional elections later this year.
The questions involve Mr. Bush's involvement with a Texas company in the early 1990s when he was a private businessman. As a member of Harken Energy's board of directors, Mr. Bush received low interest loans totaling $180,000 from the company to buy Harken stock. That is the same type of loan that the president now says should be outlawed as part of his proposal to reform corporations.
In June of 1990, while still a member of Harken's board, Mr. Bush sold a large amount of Harken stock just two months before the company reported a sharp drop in earnings that eroded the value of its stock.
Mr. Bush was late in reporting the transaction to the Securities and Exchange Commission, but federal investigators found no evidence that he dumped Harken stock because he had inside information that the company was losing money. The president said the renewed focus on his business past is nothing more than good old fashioned politics. "It has been looked at by the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission]. You've got the documents. You've got the finding where the guy said there is no case here. And the way I view it is old-style politics and I guess that is the way it is going to be," he said.
In another development, the conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch has filed suit against Vice President Dick Cheney, seeking information about his tenure as chairman of Halliburton, the Texas-based oil services company now under federal scrutiny for its accounting practices. Mr. Cheney and Halliburton deny any wrongdoing.
Judicial Watch Chairman Larry Klayman said, "The president is not addressing what his vice-president is alleged to have done. He is not addressing what he is alleged to have done with Harken Energy Company. He wants to move on. And that's the mood in Washington move on, never hold us accountable, and frankly, it is a ruse over the American people."
The questions about their past business dealings come at an awkward time for the president and vice president as they seek to restore investor confidence in a stock market badly shaken by corporate accounting scandals.
Opposition Democrats already sense a potentially potent political issue. Sherrod Brown is a Democratic Congressman from Ohio. "For many of us, the president's credibility on corporate issues has been a problem since his vast but inexplicable success as a businessman was revealed a number of years ago," she said.
Political analysts said the Democrats are determined to find something that will bring down the president's approval ratings, which continue to hover around 75 percent.
Bill Straub covers politics for the Scripps Howard News Service and is a guest on this week's 'Issues in the News' program on VOA. "The Democrats, I think, are emboldened by what is going on. For the first time, they smell a little blood in the water and with the off-year [congressional] elections coming up, they are getting around to thinking that they actually might have an opportunity to pick up some seats now because of all this going on," Mr. Straub said.
Many of the president's Republican supporters in Congress see the issue of Mr. Bush's past business dealings as nothing more than a temporary distraction. They are much more concerned about the volatility of the stock market and fears of what a general economic decline would do to their own re-election chances in November.