“Frankly,I was against that because once you’ve bought a congressional office,you don’t have to repurchase that office a few years down the line,” Abramoff said. “I believe that over time,with the exception of some very few incredible saints,most people start slipping into a corrupt – they fall into the miasma,and I believe that getting people in and out of there is probably not a bad idea.”
Abramoff used to lobby for Indian tribes. He traded expensive gifts,meals and sports trips for political favors,among other transgressions.
The former lobbyist spoke at a Public Citizen conference earlier this week. The advocacy group defends consumer rights and lobbies for public financing of political campaigns. Public Citizen was founded by Ralph Nader,consumer rights advocate and former independent and Green Party presidential candidate. Abramoff pointed out the irony of his appearance before a group founded by Nader,whose ideas he fought during his lobbying years.
Abramoff said the word lobbyist should be redefined,and he used presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s case as an example. The former House speaker released documents showing his consulting firm was paid $1.65 million for two years of consulting for Freddie Mac.
“The term lobbyist needs redefining,obviously,” Abramoff said. “Newt has probably fallen in the gap of the definition of what legally makes you have to register to lobby versus what is lobbying.”
Abramoff shared his ideas about how to fight corruption in Congress and on K Street,the capital’s main business street and traditional home to lobbying firms. He said people in the lobbying industry should not be allowed to give gifts or money to political campaigns,all laws should apply to lawmakers as they do to other people and there should be term limits for members of Congress and their staffs.
Abramoff knows firsthand the corrupt structure he talked about. He said 90 percent of the people he hired were former Capitol Hill staff members. He did not hire former members of Congress who he said were “lazy.” Even staff members who turned down jobs ended up helping him.
“They would say no,but they were so incredibly complimented that from then on anything I asked was granted,” Abramoff said. He said,however,he can’t really claim any innovations in his lobbying practice. “All I did was see things that I thought it worked and I overdid them,ultimately.”
He spent 43 months in prison and said he still owes a $44 million dollar fine. He is promoting a book,“Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist,” and said he would like to produce movies.
“Whatever dollar I take in,they take basically whatever I don’t need to have for basic living,” Abramoff said. “And they monitor every expense I make.”
Reach reporter Robin Siteneski at [email protected] or 202-326-9868. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.