Saturday, November 05, 2011
Jack Abramoff Unplugged
60 Minututes' Lesley Stahl has a segment in this Sunday night's edition featuring convicted Washington influence peddler Jack Abramoff. He has a new tell all book out, Capitol Punishment, that has a lot of Washington pols on edge. A point Abramoff is making today is that congressional ethics reforms implemented in the aftermath of his case have done little to change the culture of corruption in Washington. I met Abramoff back in the early 1980s when he was president of the national College Republicans and I was president of the local chapter at Eastern Illinois University. He was an extremely self-confident man who had a meteoric rise in national political circles before his downfall following his indictment in 2005 on charges of defrauding Native American tribes he represented before Congress and the Interior Department on gaming matters. He served a six-year sentence for a variety of charges that arose out of his illegal influence peddling in Washington. Because he cooperated with federal investigators, many others were convicted along with him, including two lobbyists, Kevin Ring and Neil Volz, who worked for him before joining Barnes & Thornburg's Washington, D.C. office.
I've often criticized the corrupting influence tickets to professional sporting events and expensive dining has on our elected officials. Most of the media in Indiana have turned a blind eye to how much our elected officials are rewarded with tickets to sporting events, including the Indianapolis Colts, Indiana Pacers and the Indianapolis 500, and how much they are wined and dined at Indianapolis' finest restaurants. The politicians always insist that a free meal or tickets to a football game don't affect their decisions, but as a former lobbyist I know that is not the case. The Abramoff corruption investigations uncovered the extent to which he used four sky boxes he had at major sports arenas and a high-end restaurant he co-owned in Washington to quite effectively wield corrupt influence over members of Congress and their staff.
Speaking from his personal experience, Abramoff is now outlining a number of ethics reforms he believes are needed to prevent our elected officials from being corrupted by lobbyists. He wants to bar lobbyists from making political contributions to the people they lobby, and he wants to bar companies that bid on government contracts from making contributions. He thinks all gifts to lawmakers by lobbyists, including meals and tickets to sporting events, should be banned. He even wants the revolving door closed completely by imposing a lifetime ban on former legislators and their staff members from lobbying Congress. Abramoff thinks these harsh rules are necessary to ensure that people choose public service to serve the public and not their personal bank accounts.