Abramoff Wants Congress to Come Clean
By: Michael R. Shannon
There’s nothing like spending 43 months in prison for fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy in connection with Congressional influence–peddling to make you an advocate of political contribution reform.
Notorious Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff is back on what the late Watergate scandal participant, John Ehrlichman might term a “modified limited hang out” book tour.
Abramoff contends that Washington equals swamp and the only reason he went to jail, for what he claims is standard operating procedure, is Jack made the mistake of raising his head too far above the scum line.
Jack’s obvious continuing pride in his accomplishments on behalf of his clients is cause to doubt sincere contrition on his part. And Abramoff appears blissfully unaware that the reputation he earned and scandal he created are in large part responsible for the GOP losing the House in 2006 — or if not unaware, he’s certainly unrepentant.
Still, Jack took advantage of the “me time” the feds gave him in Cumberland Prison to propose two reforms to clean up some of the mess he reveled in before his unfortunate incarceration.
First, he recommends that lobbyists, recipients of federal contracts and anyone who benefits from public funds be prohibited from making contributions or providing gifts to those in power. This alone covers everyone from General Dynamics to residents of Section 8 housing. Then he adds to his impossible dream by calling for a lifetime ban on lobbying by Members of Congress and their staff.
Conservatives automatically suspect any contribution prohibition because contributions are a form of speech. Yet I’ve never been entirely sold on the idea that semi–Socialist George Soros’ speech should forever be exponentially louder than mine, given the disparity in our bank accounts.
Counter–balancing conservatives like the Koch brothers grant what little peace of mind I have. (For conservatives the best of an uncertain situation would probably be to return to the unlimited contributions regime that existed before the “reforms” with the addition of unlimited and immediate disclosure of the donor.)
Campaign contributions from companies and individuals that take government money are inherently incestuous. It’s quite possible that most of the money that comprises the contribution originated as tax dollars before it was washed through the contractor’s accounts.
That’s one reason I like the idea. The other is the restriction is voluntary: don’t take the government check and you can contribute to your heart’s content. Even those affected by the ban face only a limited imposition on political speech. They can still give to state and local candidates, they can give to parties and they can spend their money on independent expenditures.
Speech bans already exist without undermining the Constitution. For example, individuals with a Top Secret clearance are prohibited from discussing the secrets in public, which is a limit on speech. Judges aren’t allowed to discuss cases while the trial is in progress, which is another voluntary limit on speech. So how does the prohibition on contributions differ?
Precedent for the equally voluntary lobby ban already exists in a limited form. Congressmen, Senators and staff are currently required to wait one year before they can board the lobby gravy train. Abramoff’s idea just extends the time limit to forever.
Politicians become lobbyists after leaving office because they’ve been captured by Washington and joining the permanent political class just seems like the thing to do. The constituents, who were fine as long as they were providing votes, are no longer up to snuff when it comes to being neighbors.
This voluntary rule — combined with term limits, which has also has a new supporter in Abramoff — would do much toward ridding us of the professional politician who’s only goal in life is serving in big government where he can “be a positive force for change.”
Three good ideas, regardless of the source, that have as much chance of being enacted as Ron Paul does of being President.
Michael R. Shannon is a public relations and advertising consultant with corporate, government and political experience around the globe. He is a dynamic and entertaining keynote speaker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.