Lobbyist Jack Abramoff on just how easy it is to “own” members of Congress

Last night, as I was driving around Ann Arbor in my pajamas, in search of my daughter’s friend Mox, I started flipping around between AM stations, in hopes of finding an episode of When Radio Was. While I wasn’t able to find one, I did happen across something interesting – a station that was broadcasting audio of that night’s primetime line-up on CBS. And, as luck would have it, I got to listen to Lesley Stahl’s interview with convicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. If you have the time, I’d encourage you to check it out. Here’s the video.

Here, for those of you unwilling to watch the whole thing, are a few of my favorite parts.

…ABRAMOFF: When we would become friendly with an office and they were important to us, and the chief of staff was a competent person, I would say or my staff would say to him or her at some point, “You know, when you’re done working on the Hill, we’d very much like you to consider coming to work for us.” Now the moment I said that to them or any of our staff said that to ’em, that was it. We owned them. And what does that mean? Every request from our office, every request of our clients, everything that we want, they’re gonna do. And not only that, they’re gonna think of things we can’t think of to do…

ABRAMOFF: The reform efforts continually are these faux-reform efforts where they’ll change, they’ll tweak the system. They’ll say, “You can have a meal with a congressman if they’re standing up, not sitting down.”

STAHL: Is that serious? Or are you joking?

ABRAMOFF: Oh no, I’m not joking at all.

STAHL: So, it’s okay if you pay for lunch as long as you stand up?

ABRAMOFF: Well, it’s actually worse than that. You can’t take a congressman to lunch for $25 and buy him a hamburger or a steak of something like that. But you can take him to a fundraising lunch and not only buy him that steak, but give him $25,000 extra and call it a fundraiser. And have all the same access and all the same interaction with that congressman. So the people who make the reforms are the people in the system.

STAHL: Could you do the same thing today? I’m asking you whether you think the system’s been cleaned up?

ABRAMOFF: Could I do the same thing that? Yeah. No, the system hasn’t been cleaned up at all.

STAHL: At all.

ABRAMOFF: There’s an arrogance on the part of lobbyists, and certainly there was on the part of me and my team, that no matter what they come up we, we’re smarter than they are and we’ll overcome it. We’ll just find another way through. That’s all.

He says the most important thing that needs to be done is to prohibit members of Congress and their staff from ever becoming lobbyists in Washington.

ABRAMOFF: If you make the choice to serve the public, public service, then serve the public, not yourself. When you’re done, go home. Washington’s a dangerous place. Don’t hang around…

Speaking of reform legislation, Abramoff says that lobbyists love reform bills best of all, because they’re the easiest to get passed. And, as that’s the case, they make excellent vehicles for the transport of hidden language that can benefit corporate clients… Ironic, right?

For the rest of the transcript, click here.

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  1. Edward
    Posted November 8, 2011 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    I wonder how many Michigan politicians were among the 100 that he “owned”.

  2. Meta
    Posted November 8, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    From the Washington Post:

    Abramoff was the former two-term chairman of the College Republican National Committee and executive director of President Ronald Reagan’s grassroots lobbying organization, Citizens for America, and rode the Republican bandwagon of power in the House…

    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.”


  3. Robert
    Posted November 9, 2011 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    No comment, Tater?

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