Sunday, November 6, 2011 : Jack Abramoff is now making money as an author
Jack Abramoff, at one time one of the most influential and notorious political lobbyists punting legalised online and other gambling in the United States has resurfaced, this time as an author.
In his new biographical book, "Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption from America's Most Notorious Lobbyist", the man the press and politicians loved to hate explains his downfall and subsequent three-and-a-half-year imprisonment for his "win-at-any-cost" approach to business, which was not above getting his way through bribery.
That focus and tenacity was recognised early in his career, when a senior associate warned him: "At the rate you're going, you're either going to be dead, disgraced or in jail in five years."
Now 52 years old, Abramoff took 20 other people down with him when he was convicted and jailed…and his influence-peddling tactics resulted in changes to US lobbying law; changes which he maintains are still not strong enough to combat special interest corruption effectively.
His book offers suggestions on how that could be improved, and will no doubt be read by many politicians.
For now, Abramoff is intent on rebuilding his life, starting with the promotion of his book. Given the immense publicity his exposure and subsequent trial received – it even generated the ‘Casino Jack' movie starring Kevin Spacey – the erstwhile lobbyist could have a major hit on his hands.
However, the US authorities have revealed in court filings that they are considering going after the book profits to help repay a $23 million restitution order to Abramoff's victims.
Political casualties in the high profile Abramoff affair included the Republican House Majority Leader at the time, Tom DeLay, whom Abramoff promoted extensively; using his client's lobbying funds to make the politician one of the most powerful men in the nation, in the process creating an influential personal ally.
By his own admission, Abramoff was one of the most expensive lobbyists in Washington, charging many times the accepted monthly fee for his services, but justifying this by pointing to the often spectacular results he was capable of delivering.
But it did not last, and in 2004 the Washington Post exposed tribal gambling deals worth tens of millions of dollars in which Abramoff and his business partner, former DeLay spokesman Michael Scanlon, were involved.
That escalated to allegations that the duo were secretly kicking back profits to one another worth more than $20 million, and the Justice Department opened serious criminal charges. Scanlon and Abramoff pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with enforcement authorities in an investigation that led to successful anti-corruption prosecutions against other lobbyists, congressmen and high officials in the Bush administration.
Now apparently reformed, Abramoff says current bans on gifts and entertainment blandishments to politicians are not sufficient to root out political corruption. He suggests that political contributions be banned from lobbyists or anyone receiving federal contracts or benefiting from public funds, writing:
"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.
"What I did not consider then, and never considered until I was sitting in prison, was that contributions from parties with an interest in legalization 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."
Another anti-corruption precaution may be to restrict the terms of office of politicians, according to the disgraced lobbyist. This would help to prevent politicians from becoming too friendly and involved with cash-heavy lobbyists promoting special interest groups.
And he suggests that lawmakers and their staff should be banned for life from working for any organisation that lobbies. Abramoff claims that the movement of politicians into lobbying is pervasive in Washington, and he justifies this precaution by relating his own experiences in using the promise of a lobbying job to gain political advantage:
"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 pay check may have been signed by the Congress, but he was already working for me."
There may be a trace of vindictiveness in some of Abramoff's claims; one example being his references to the congressional hearings which were part of the political crisis that he had helped to create in Washington.
During the televised hearings Abramoff repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid incriminating himself, declining to answer questions by the politicians conducting the hearing. Now free to comment, he writes that most of the senators who were criticising and berating him were hypocrites who had taken substantial payments from his clients and firms.
He names several such congressmen, claiming that they were recipients of amounts varying between $25 000 and $75 000 through his company as ‘campaign contributions' for favours asked for and given.