Abramoff: Ban Legislators, Staff From Ever Working For Lobbyists. He Should Know!

Via Salon, this revealing AP story features ex-con Jack Abramoff sharing his realization that... it's wrong for lobbyists to buy Congress. I believe this is what the nuns used to call "locking the barn door after the horse is out," but better

Via Salon, this revealing AP story features ex-con Jack Abramoff sharing his realization that... it's wrong for lobbyists to buy Congress. I believe this is what the nuns used to call "locking the barn door after the horse is out," but better late than never, right?

The 52-year-old's name has become a synonym for Washington corruption. The influence-peddling schemes he masterminded ultimately resulted in conviction of 20 people and changed federal lobbying laws.

But Abramoff says the reforms aren't tough enough to keep special-interest power in check and, from his insider perspective, he lays out what more needs to be done.

He writes in "Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption from America's Most Notorious Lobbyist" that there still are plenty of corrupt lobbying practices that are perfectly legal.

Abramoff is now out of the lobbying business, but the father of five has returned to the home he shares with his wife in the Washington suburb of Silver Spring, Md., and is promoting the book, including an interview airing Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes." Authorities have said in court filings they are looking into using the book proceeds to help repay a $23 million restitution order to his victims.

[...] Abramoff dismisses the reforms as toothless. He says there are more effective ways to get powerbrokers to do a client's bidding, particularly political contributions that he says should be banned from lobbyists or anyone receiving federal contracts or otherwise benefiting from public funds.

"As a lobbyist, I thought it only natural and right that my clients should reward those members who saved them such substantial sums with generous contributions. This quid pro quo became one of the hallmarks of our lobbying efforts," Abramoff writes.

"What I did not consider then, and never considered until I was sitting in prison, was that contributions from parties with an interest in legislation are really nothing but bribes. Sure, it's legal for the most part. Sure, everyone in Washington does it. Sure, it's the way the system works. It's one of Washington's dirty little secrets - but it's bribery just the same."

Abramoff says term limits would prevent lawmakers from getting too close to special interests. He also says lawmakers and their staff should be banned for life from working for any organization that lobbies.

The movement of congressional figures to lobbying is pervasive in Washington. The Internet site LegiStorm tracks those who move from the Hill to K Street, where many lobbying firms have offices, and says there have been 493 already this year.

Abramoff said he would often get access inside congressional offices by suggesting to key staffers that they come work for him when they were finished with their congressional careers.

"Assuming the staffer had any interest in leaving Capitol Hill for K Street - and almost 90 percent of them do - I would own him and, consequentially, the entire office," Abramoff writes. "No rules had been broken, at least not yet. No one even knew what was happening, but suddenly, every move that staffer made, he made with his future at my firm in mind. His paycheck may have been signed by the Congress, but he was already working for me."

The exposure of the Abramoff scandal became the subject of congressional hearings where Abramoff repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment Constitutional protection against incriminating himself and did not respond to questions. He writes in the book that most of the senators who were vilifying him were hypocrites who had taken thousands from his clients and firms.

"I stared stone-faced at (former Colorado Republican Sen. Benjamin Nighthorse) Campbell as he hurled invectives at me," Abramoff writes. "I wondered how he'd react if I reminded him about the $25,000 in campaign checks I delivered to him during our breakfast meeting at posh Capitol Hill eatery La Colline the morning of April 23, 2002. I'll never forget that breakfast. After I handed him the envelope full of campaign contributions, he let me know that my clients would be treated well by his Indian Affairs Committee."

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