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Aug 12, 2005 12:22 pm

The Abramoff Indictment

The indictment of super lobbyist Jack Abramoff and an associate for wire fraud is no accident. It follows from the new kind of lobbying that infested our capital after the Republicans recaptured Congress in 1994.

Rather than selling expertise, the new lobbyists, personified by Jack Abramoff, specialized in orchestrating complex and large flows of money. Money flowed from wealthy clients to the lobbyist and then to conservative groups like the National Center for Public Policy Research that dispensed lavish perks and travel to opinion-makers and politicians. The groups also rebated contributions back to the lobbyist and the lobbyist and his clients filled the campaign coffers of complicit politicians.

For example, Abramoff cultivated a wealthy and generous client base in the government of the Northern Mariana Islands and their allies among the owners of textile factories. These operators could use the “Made in America” label while exempt from American labor laws. They imported foreign workers – mostly Asian women -- paid them miserable wages, housed the workers in inhumane conditions, and employed them for unconscionably long hours under sweat shop conditions. In the 1990’s Abramoff blocked a bipartisan effort in Congress to cover the Marina Islands under U. S. labor laws, drawing on the clout of his friend and associate Texas GOP Representative Tom Delay, the recipient of an expenses paid trip to the Islands that Abramoff arranged.

The politicians who entwined their destiny with Jack Abramoff should have had no illusions about the man they dealt with. In the mid-1980’s Abramoff was fired as Director of Citizens for America for overspending and mismanaging the group’s finances. Abramoff moved on to head the International Freedom Forum, funded by the South African apartheid government to polish its image and denigrate the opposition African National Congress as a Communist front. Although Tom DeLay has called Abramoff "one of my closest and dearest friends” and was fist and glove with the lobbyist’s dealings, you can bet that Delay will now try to distance himself from Abramoff faster than you say “Kenny Boy” Lay.

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Allan Lichtman - 8/14/2005

Hank, I don’t disagree with much of what you say. Lobbyists have always been with us and reformers have properly decried some of their practices. But there has been a new kind of lobbying since the Republicans took over in 1994. I am referring to the circulation of vast sums of money among special interests clients, supposedly independent tax exempt “educational groups,” opinion-makers, and politicians, with a corrupting influence on all concerned. This is qualitatively and quantitatively different than what we have seen before. The corruption has even spread to the Christian Right with several million flowing to former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed in support of gaming interests.

According to Newsweek Magazine the National Center for Public Policy Research even rebated some $2.5 million back to Abramoff and his partner, Michael Scanlon, DeLay's former press secretary, with no documented work performed and no control over the money. As Newsweek reported, “At Abramoff's urging, the center allotted $500,000 to a public-relations firm owned by Scanlon, and an additional $450,000 was paid to a foundation controlled by Abramoff. The next year, the center received its largest donation, $1.5 million, from another Abramoff client, an Internet gambling group in Gibraltar. According to Newsweek:
At Abramoff's urging, the center allotted $500,000 to a public-relations firm owned by Scanlon, and an additional $450,000 was paid to a foundation controlled by Abramoff. The next year, the center received its largest donation, $1.5 million, from another Abramoff client, an Internet gambling group in Gibraltar. This time, Abramoff suggested most of the grant, $1.28 million, be given to a firm called "KayGold LLC." Unbeknownst to Ridenour, KayGold was owned by Abramoff.

I agree with you that the election of a new Congress by itself will not solve the problem. We need to elect new kinds of representatives with the courage, backbone, and experience to stand up against the special interests and represent the interests of working- and middle-class Americans. That would be real change in Washington.

Henry Edward Bower - 8/13/2005

Do you seriously suggest that until the Republicans took over the House in 1995 there were no issues as to campaign contributions and lavish perks and travel given to politicians? Are we supposed to believe that while the Democrats ran Washington, lobbyists and their clients refrained from providing lavish gifts, travel and campaign contributions to politicians?

Just a quick googling found Nader complaining of the need for Congress to break their addiction to lavish vacations and to ban gifts to members of Congress. Senators Lautenberg and Wellstone introduced legislation to prohibit lobbyists' paying for recreational trips and entertainment costs. These both occurred in 1994, before the Republicans took control of the House.

Unfortunately, money flowed from lobbyists and their clients to Congress long before the Republicans took power in 1995. Issues of campaign contributions, travel, gifts, etc. apply to both parties.

To suggest that lobbyists solely provided their technical expertise until those corrupt Republicans took control in 1995 seems bizarre. Do you suggest that a return to power by Democrats in the House would end campaign contribution and travel issues?

In fact, the Washington Post reported Democrats taking 3458 trips to 2666 by Republicans during the past 5 years. Nancy Pelosi apparently had some problems in failing to timely report a 1999 trip to Taiwan for herself and her husband that cost almost $5000.

Real work needs to be done to clean up Congress. Partisan attacks on one party or the other does not aid in that effort.

Hank Bower