Jack Abramoff: How to fix political corruption

December 23, 2011 | By | 2 Replies More

At LA Weekly, Paul Teetor interviews Jack Abramoff, who has recently released his memoirs, titled Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist.

I focused on these parts of the interview:

Politicians have to beg constantly for money, but you say that’s not the primary problem. What is the primary problem?

Power. The primary problem is them wanting to stay in power. It’s not just campaign contributions; it’s also people giving each other meals, taking them on trips. Anytime a gratuity is given to a public servant, that is a bribe.

You say the best way to get control of a congressman’s office is to offer a future job to the chief of staff. How does that work?

I would say, “I would like to talk to you about working for me.” The minute that conversation started, I had basically bribed them. From that point forward, I found, they were basically working for us.

Is that part of your reform recommendations? Members and their chiefs of staff cannot become lobbyists?

I would include every member of their staff.

These are the conclusions of a man who manipulated the system for decades. Although he attributes much of the corruption in Washington, D.C. to the lust for power, all methods of playing the system involve the exchange of money and other things of value.  Politicians should be making their decisions solely on the merits of the legislation being considered.

The solution is to pay our representatives well but take all other money and other things of value, direct and indirect, out of the equation.  No junkets, no special book deals, no lecture money, no special consideration for jobs for relatives and friends. I would also pass a constitutional amendment to undo the damage of Citizen’s United. I would offer meaningful public funding for political campaigns. Although I don’t agree with everything Abramoff now says, I think he is right that corruption often starts with the little things and builds up.  Therefore, I would agree to ban all of the little things too: no dinners, no small gifts and nothing at all of value.

In the aggregate, these things constitute the only approach for freeing up the consciences of politicians so that they can make decisions based only on what is best for their constituents.

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Category: Campaign Finance Reform, Corporatocracy, Corruption, Politics

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Karl says:

    So essentially every politician and governement employee needs either a conscience or a shadow government employee (like Jimminy Crickett)that works for the public interest as an IRS employee to prevent even the “little things” from getting in the way of honest legislation.

    Some schools still run on a merit and demerit basis. Corrupting behavior that spreads can only be rooted out when it is identified for what it is.

    We use to think that there actually were public servants but it turns out that most have been simply looking out for their own interests, not the people they represent.

    Make everything they say and do as public servants needs to be open to the scrutiny of the public, maybe one day we’ll even get to see the official records concerning who financed their education, or if there really is a shadow government making major policy decisions.

    A public official claiming to have specific rights of privacy is the epitome of hypocrisy.

  2. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Karl,
    The problem doesn’t lie so much with the civil service as it does with patronage positions.Civil service employees are required to submit to very stringent oversight, In addition to meeting the skills requirements for their positions, they must submit to regular performance eveluations. Failure to meet any of a number of evaluation criteria can result in demotion, pay cuts and even dismissal.
    On the other hand, there are position which are appointed by various commissions and elected officials. Often these positions are staffed by “industry experts” with a vested conflict of interest.

    For example, many states have a commission that oversees the licensing of daycare facilities (including baby-sitters). The commissioners will invariably represent all of the corporate run daycare chains in the state, and little or no representation for independent daycare operators.

    Highway commissions usually represent the state’s major highy and bridge contractors.

    Usually the legislators office staff are targets of corruption. If caught, staffers are a more expendable asset than a well placed politician, and act as handlers allowing the lawmaker to only see only the part of the public opion that supports the lobbyist’s agenda.

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