Disgraced and convicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff was at the center of efforts to corrupt Congress and other government officials, which resulted in more than a dozen convictions including a congressman, congressional staffers, lobbyists, and Bush administration appointees. He has completed three and a half years in federal prison, and recently appeared on the CBS television program 60 Minutes in an apparent effort to demonstrate his rehabilitation.
In a conversation with CBS’s Leslie Stahl, Abramoff acknowledged his crimes and efforts to corrupt Congress, and described how easy it all was. He was a master at showering expensive gifts on lawmakers and their staffs in exchange for votes and other favors for clients. He says he can think of very few members of Congress who did not partake in the corruption which continues to this day. But the “best way” to get a congressional office to comply with his requests, he says, was to offer a staffer a lobbyist job which could triple the staffer’s current salary.
“When we would become friendly with an office and they were important to us, and the chief of staff was a competent person, I would say or my staff would say to him or her at some point, ‘You know, when you’re done working on the Hill, we’d very much like you to consider coming to work for us.’ Now the moment I said that to them or any of our staff said that to ’em, that was it. We owned them,” said Abramoff. “And what does that mean? Every request from our office, every request of our clients, everything that we want, they’re gonna do. And not only that, they’re gonna think of things we can’t think of to do.”
Abramoff dismisses Congressional efforts at ethical reform so far as fake and self-serving. “The system hasn’t been cleaned up at all,” he says.
He does have one good idea that would actually reform the system. He says that members of Congress and their staffs should be prohibited from ever becoming lobbyists, a lifetime ban. “If you make the choice to serve the public, public service, then serve the public, not yourself,” he says. “When you’re done, go home. Washington’s a dangerous place. Don’t hang around.”
I think that’s a pretty good idea. And additionally, to insure that members and their staffs do go home when they leave federal service, I think Congressional power over the District of Columbia should be exercised to literally bar former members and their staffs from ever living or working in the District after their federal service ends. Get out and go home!
Both the Tea Party and Occupy movements should be able to embrace this idea to reduce Washington corruption. And I hope that good government groups of all political stripes would take it up, too. They can all thank Jack Abramoff.