Once lobbyist Jack Abramoff rats on the congressmen and staffers who accepted his bribes or otherwise cooperated in his crimes, politics will be restored to their former condition of purity.
And pigs will fly.
The Abramoff scandal is a symptom - a spectacular one, to be sure - of pervasive corruption in the American political system. Americans should hope the Justice Department, using information provided by Abramoff, nets a paddy wagon full of crooked pols. But they should not delude themselves into believing that the corrosive interplay of power and money will end.
Abramoff admitted Tuesday in Washington, D.C., to federal conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud charges. He followed that plea with another in Florida on Wednesday, when he admitted to conspiracy and wire fraud. He has confessed to bribing at least one member of Congress, and dozens of others on Capitol Hill could be in the Justice Department's cross hairs.
Abramoff was one of 14,000 registered lobbyists in the nation's capital. Their work is not a crime - indeed, it's protected by the First Amendment, which guarantees citizens the right to "petition the government for a redress of grievances." That's what lobbyists do. They tell people in the legislative and executive branches what their clients need from government. And they support the campaigns of those officials who are most sympathetic to their clients' points of view.
Abramoff crossed the line into criminal conduct when he cheated clients - he persuaded an Indian tribe to hire a firm in which he had a secret 50 percent interest, and then skimmed millions in profits. He also cheated the government by setting up a tax-exempt foundation to collect lobbying fees. And he cheated parties to a business transaction by faking a fund transfer to make it appear as though he and a partner had a $27 million stake in the purchase of gambling boats.
A notable aspect to Abramoff's activities is the involvement of gambling interests and Indian tribes. Abramoff collected $80 million in lobbying fees, much of it from Indian tribes seeking favorable govern- ment treatment of their casinos. This was the money that sluiced so freely through the hallways of the Capitol. Abramoff bilked his tribal clients and called them "monkeys" behind their backs. But even if the tribes hadn't hired a crook, the fact that tens of millions in gambling revenues are washing into the political system is a cause for alarm.
Abramoff was clearly an Icarus among lobbyists - one who flew so high he got burned and fell to earth. But the rest of the capital's flock of lobbyists will continue to ply their trade closer to the ground. Only the dumbest and the greediest will get into trouble with the law. It will remain standard practice to use campaign contributions and other displays of appreciation to reward politicians who act in ways that benefit clients' interests. House and Senate members will not only accept this support but will seek it out.
An example of this two-way relationship is former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's K Street Pro- ject, named for the street on which many lobbying firms' offices are located. After the Republicans gained control of the House in 1994, DeLay let it be known that firms employing more Republicans and fewer Democrats would find a warmer reception in Congress. DeLay, in effect, suggested that firms hiring his and his allies' friends, associates and supporters would have a greater influence on legislation.
This amounts to a shakedown. But the lobbyists for the most part complied, the majority leader was hailed for his ability to play hardball and the K Street Project is not the cause of DeLay's current legal difficulties. If the Democrats were to take control of the House this year, a reverse version of the K Street Project would undoubtedly be launched soon after.
Abramoff did not cause politicians' hunger for money to intersect with lobbyists' need for influence. Many House and Senate members must raise $10,000 a day to finance their election campaigns. Lobbyists represent interests with millions or billions at stake in decisions made in Congress. The two will interact in ways that are difficult to distinguish from bribery.
The corrupt relations will continue after Abramoff is behind bars.
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|Title Annotation:||Editorials; The Abramoff scandal exposes rot in system|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Jan 5, 2006|
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