Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff joins the chorus calling for campaign finance and lobbying reform. Better late than never.
Abramoff, who was convicted for his involvement in a massive corruption scheme in which he pleaded guilty to cheating Indian tribes out of tens of millions of dollars in lobbying fees and bribing lawmakers and staffers with lavish gifts, writes that he had “an epiphany” in prison.
POLITICO obtained an advanced copy the autobiography, “Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist,” set to be released on Nov. 7.
In the 3½ years he spent at Cumberland Federal Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Md., Abramoff says he paced the track at the medium security prison day after day, “consumed” by the problem of how government can be cleaned up.
One of the conclusions he draws is to entirely eliminate any campaign contributions by lobbyists, those bidding for federal contracts and anyone else who stands to benefit financially from public funds.
Lobbyists should not only be banned from making campaign donations, but they should also not be allowed to give gifts, he argues.
“Instead of limiting the amount of money a lobbyist may spend on wining and dining congressional members and staff, eliminate it entirely,” says Abramoff, himself guilty of once having lavished contributions, meals, event tickets, travel, golf and jobs on federal officials. “No finger food, no snacks, no hot dogs. Nothing.”
The ex-lobbyist also proposes eliminating the “lure of post-public service lobbying employment,” suggesting anyone who served in Congress or as a congressional aide should be “barred for life” from lobbying the government.
“That may seem harsh — and it is,” he says, but nonetheless adds, “If you choose public service, choose it to serve the public, not your bank account. When you’re done serving, go home. Get a real job.”
Other Washington reforms Abramoff suggests include eliminating “bringing home the bacon” — ending pork projects in members’ districts — and applying all federal laws enacted by Congress to Congress itself, which he argues is too often exempt from “a myriad of strictures they blithely place on all the rest of us.”
“The conclusions I came to in prison will not be popular with my former colleagues in the lobbying world, or with the Congress. I might dream, but I am no dreamer,” he writes.
In the book’s “Where are they now?” appendix, Abramoff writes of the senator: “He continued to milk the scandal he helped ignite, even interjecting into his speech that night [when he accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for president in St. Paul in September 2008] the self-congratulatory encomium, ‘I’ve fought lobbyists who stole from Indian tribes.’”
Abramoff, perhaps in an effort to garner some sympathy, begins his book with a prologue that takes readers through what the ex-lobbyist calls his “death march” to a congressional hearing on Sept. 29, 2004, recalling his entry into the Hart Senate Office building on Capitol Hill — “the torture chamber of American politics.”
“I stared at the senators through the sea of paparazzi crouched on the floor between the senatorial presidium and my chair at the witness table,” Abramoff writes. “Most of these legislators had taken thousands of dollars from my clients and firms, and now they were sitting as impartial judges against me. Washington hypocrisy at its best.”