It's no mystery that Ken Lay and Enron were big benefactors of George W. Bush -- the biggest in Bush Jr.'s political career, by far. The question is, how much?

Campaign finance groups like OpenSecrets.org offer a snapshot of the direct contributions from Lay and Enron that propelled Bush's career. All told, they add up to some $736,800 -- a staggering sum by any standard.

But that figure just scratches the surface of the many financial tentacles holding Lay and Bush together. Kevin Philips, author of the excellent book American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, makes a stab at capturing the decisive role Lay/Enron played in Bush's fortunes:

The most interesting Bush family involvement is with Enron. Over the twentieth-century emergence of modern government ethics, no presidential family has had a parallel relationship. [...]However, the only way a chronicler can seriously weigh the Enron-Bush tie is by a yardstick the American press has never really employed: the unseemliness of a sixteen- or seventeen-year interaction by the members of an American political dynasty in promoting and being rewarded by a single U.S. corporation based in its home state. [...]

Most of the Washington press corps has been content to leave alone the much larger story-the apparent seventeen-year connection between the Bush dynasty and Enron. Even without such information, it seems clear, counting campaign contributions, consultancies, joint investments, deals, presidential library and inaugural contributions, speech fees and the like, that the Bush family and entourage collected some $8 million to $10 million from Enron over the years, which is more than changed hands in Harding's Teapot Dome scandal. Depending on some still-unclear relationships, it could be as high as $25 million.

Would Bush even be in the White House if it weren't for Lay and Enron? It's a valid question.