Conducting interviews on this topic is the author of Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America's Most Notorious Lobbyist, Jack Abramoff. Author Profile and Information, Click Here: http://wndbooks.wnd.com/capitol-punishment-2/#
To improve cybersecurity, corporations have been known to hire computer hackers. And to open doors, locksmiths have been known to employ reformed burglars.
So perhaps it's not surprising that some useful advice on how to clean up Washington is coming from none other than Jack Abramoff.
Abramoff, you might recall, is the lobbyist who took Washington corruption to new heights before pleading guilty in 2006 to mail fraud and conspiracy charges. Now out of prison - and no longer flying congressmen to golf outings in a private jet, or handing out $1 million per year in prime sports tickets and concerts - Abramoff has occupied himself by keeping the books for a pizzeria and peddling a new book.
As disreputable as the messenger is, his message - that too little has changed since he ruled the roost on Capitol Hill- is well worth hearing. Despite a 2007 ethics law that was a result of Abramoff's abuses, lobbyists still have many ways to ingratiate themselves with members of Congress and procure tax breaks, government contracts or other favors. And lawmakers and their aides still have ways to enrich themselves, during and after their public service. Among them:
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*Revolving door. The 2007 law did almost nothing to thwart one of Abramoff's most appalling tricks, which was to woo people in power by offering them lucrative lobbying jobs whenever they wanted to leave public service. In an interview with 60 Minutes this month, Abramoff said that once he dangled a job, not only did he get what he wanted, but congressional offices would call him to suggest additional favors they could do.
Under current law, House members and senior staffers must wait one year after leaving their jobs on Capitol Hill before they can lobby their former colleagues. That was not changed in the 2007 law. For senators and their staffers, the "cooling-off" period was increased from one to two years.
Neither of these prohibitions seems sufficiently long, and neither has sufficient teeth. In both cases, the ban is only on making personal contact with key people on Capitol Hill, so a former member or staffer can instantly take a senior position at a lobbying firm or trade association where he or she directs strategy.
*Travel loophole. Another goal of the 2007 law - to ban posh junkets such as the ones Abramoff paid for in his lobbying days - is already being circumvented. Just this summer, a lobbying organization that promotes Israeli interests sent 81 members and their spouses on a week-long trip there. As of Sept. 30, lawmakers had taken 451 lobbyist-funded trips in 2011, according to a USA TODAY report earlier this month. That's a 75% increase over the same period last year.
The latest ruse of choice is for special interest groups to set up shell organizations chartered as 501(c)(3) charitable groups. These groups can send members and their families on pure vacations, or lightly-working vacations, even if their only purpose is to send powerful people to swell places on behalf of people with an interest in getting favors from Congress. The travel ban needs to be tightened.
*Insider trading. Abramoff said he knows of as many as a dozen members of Congress and their aides who bought and sold stocks based on insider information they picked up on Capitol Hill, such as advance knowledge of an investigative hearing into a company. "I think it was pretty widely known, and it is pretty widely known that it is going on," he told CNBC.
Insider-trading laws typically don't cover Congress because the privileged information doesn't come from company executives and because lawmakers aren't employees of any public company. It might be time to pass a long-stalled bill banning trading on insider knowledge of any pending legislation. At a minimum, lawmakers and top aides should have to promptly disclose their stock trades, so the public can judge conflicts of interests.
The 2007 reforms were billed as ways to clean up Washington corruption in the wake of the Abramoff scandal, but Capitol Hill and the K Street lobbying corridor have proved largely impervious to change. For lobbyists, trying to buy congressmen continues to be seen as a good investment, and too many members allow themselves to be bought, or at least rented. If Congress wants to get its approval rating above 13%, it should heed a disgraced lobbyist.
ABOUT YOUR GUEST: JACK ABRAMOFF got an early start in politics. A Magna Cum Laude graduate of Brandeis University and Georgetown University Law Center, he was national chairman of the College Republicans and leader of President Reagan's grassroots lobbying organization. He joined K Street in 1994, signing on with the lobbying division of Preston Gates where he built one of the nation's most prestigious and profitable lobbying practices. When a corporation, Indian tribe or foreign nation needed to win, they went to Team Abramoff. His lobbying guns didn't lose, and clients reaped billions. Abramoff had it all. Then it was gone. Now, Jack is determined to do all he can to help end the corruption within the system he played so well. His saga will serve not only as a cautionary tale, but as an historic platform for reform.
"THEY THREW HIM UNDER THE BUS PRETTY UNCEREMONIOUSLY, I THINK, IN AN EFFORT TO SHOW THAT THEY'VE CLEANED UP THE LOBBYING INDUSTRY, BUT I DON'T THINK THEY HAVE. I THINK HE WAS WORKING WITHIN A CULTURE THAT EXISTS. NOW HE MAY HAVE DONE IT BIGGER AND BETTER AND LOUDER AND MADE MORE MONEY THAN ANYBODY ELSE, BUT HE WAS LIVING IN A CULTURE I THINK STILL EXISTS." - Kevin Spacey, star of Casino Jack, on "The O'Reilly Factor"
Suggested Questions and Topics
* America seems to hate lobbyists. Should they?
* What's the link between lobbying corruption and the dysfunction of our government?
* You were considered the top lobbyist, but you were also considered a lethal opponent. "Team Abramoff" rarely lost in the Congress. Why was that? Was it all bribery and manipulation?
* You have been accused of ripping off your clients, such as overcharging your Indian clients. Did you?
* You were a partisan Republican and a hard line conservative. Is that consistent with being a lobbyist?
* You represented some very unpopular causes, such as sweatshops in the American Pacific territories. How does a free marketer support such places?
* The Congress reported you visiting the Bush White House hundreds of times. What was your relationship with President Bush?
* You based a lot of your lobbying around leisure activities, including golf. Is it true you played in a million dollar golf match in Russia with Tom DeLay?
* At the apex of your career, you were considered one of the most powerful men in Washington, and then it came crashing down. How did it feel to lose it all, almost instantly?
* You were called to a nationally televised Senate hearing. There you would have had a chance to explain yourself, but you chose to plead the Fifth. Why? What would you have said if you spoke at that hearing?
* You pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud and went to prison for almost 4 years. What were you convicted of?
* Why would you wear a black hat coming out of the courthouse on the day of your guilty plea? Don't you know that in American culture, the black hat is the sign of the villain?
* Were you the most evil lobbyist in Washington? Now that you're out of lobbying, are things better?
* How can the system be reformed? Are they taking the steps necessary to change the system in the wake of your scandal?
* You became the poster child of careless emails. You used harsh and derogatory language against your clients. Did you disdain your clients?
* How come there were no Democrats indicted in your scandal? Why did only one US Congressman go to prison?
* Your book discusses your relationship with various fascinating international figures, including Imelda Marcos. You saved her from going to prison?
* What is it like to endure the fall from power? How did your family deal with the glare of the media?
* What was prison like? Is that system as dysfunctional as the rest of the government?