Wendy Lee Gramm helped continue the "Reagan revolution" as a free-market regulator and chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission from 1988 to 1993, so perhaps it was no surprise the wife of former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm ended up on the board of Enron in 1993. But that post brought her a hefty dose of notoriety when the Enron debacle unfolded in late 2001. As a member of the company's audit and compliance committee, she helped approve financial statements and acted as the liaison to auditors Arthur Andersen. Enron subsequently collapsed, Arthur Andersen folded, and Gramm left the board.
So where is Gramm now? Ironically, she is in the center of the corporate governance debate. Gramm, 59, is chairman of regulatory studies for the Mercatus Center, a conservative think tank affiliated with George Mason University in Virginia. She recently moderated a panel on a proposed rule by the Securities and Exchange Commission to give shareholders more access to board selection. But the dozens of corporate governance experts attending the December meeting didn't acknowledge the white elephant in the room. Enron came up in passing, but the fact that one of its former directors was leading a discussion about how boards of directors should be held accountable to shareholders went unspoken.
While Gramm has tiptoed back into the rough waters of corporate governance, don't expect her to leap in headfirst anytime soon. Though she sat on three other boards in recent years, Gramm currently holds no board seats. "I would be very, very surprised if she joined another board," says shareholder activist Nell Minow.
Gramm did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. A spokesperson for the Mercatus Center indicated that Gramm currently splits her time among Washington, New York, and Texas. Her husband retired from the Senate in 2002, and recently the Texas power couple have fueled a public debate in the editorial pages of their local paper. Officials proposed constructing a high-voltage power line near the Gramms' 1,000-acre property in Bexar County. They and other landowners have objected to the plan, which has prompted city officials to consider installing it through a neighboring, state-owned canyon. That plan is meeting fierce local resistance. Combine a former Enron board member and a well-connected politician with a transmission-line proposal, and surely sparks are going to fly. -Megan Barnett
This story appears in the January 26, 2004 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.