Commonwealth Journal

Columns

November 7, 2011

Abramoff Redux

Somerset — Jack Abramoff, he of the perpetual five-o-clock shadow, has a new book out on how to end the influence of lobbyists and their clients on our political system. Mr. Abramoff was sentenced to prison in 2006 for mail fraud and conspiracy related to his lobbying activities for which he received tens of millions of dollars for work that was either not done or poorly done. He headed up one of the most effective lobbying organizations in Washington DC and contributed fortunes to the legislators he was hired to influence. He said that he spent hours walking and thinking while in prison on how to clean up government and has come to some conclusions. Being who he is led me to think that he may have some insight into the cancer that eats at our political process.

He concludes that we need to completely eliminate, by making it illegal, anyone engaged in lobbying to contribute to campaigns and to extend the prohibition to gifts, dining, travel or any other thing of value. He goes on to suggest that anyone who has held public office should be barred from being employed by anyone over whom that legislator has exercised authority. Choose one, lobbying or public service. Abramoff goes on to castigate many of the legislators who sat in judgment of him in Congress recalling that many of them had accepted his money without compunction in earlier times.

I sincerely hope that Mr. Abramoff has had his “Come to Jesus” moment and that his eyes have been opened to the dark and dastardly ways that he contributed to the prostitution of our political system. I hope that he can now use his insider's knowledge to bring down the corrupt system of financing elections that sells government to the highest bidder.

My only complaint is that Mr. Abramoff doesn't go far enough. I have long espoused the complete removal of contributions from independent sources to political campaigns. I would make it illegal to contribute any thing whatsoever to any candidate and I would attach a penalty significant enough to deter any consideration of breaking this law.

Of course, the Supreme Court has held that money equals free speech. A wrongheaded decision if I have ever seen one since it would follow that more money equals more free speech and undermines the notion of equality and fair competition. However, I don't think that the Court would go so far as to thwart the will of the people if satisfactory legislation to accomplish this were passed.

The recent Republican debates have drawn criticism for causing the polls to vary wildly and for making it difficult to raise money. In response to that I cry, Hallelujah! Let the people see what happens when ideas compete and some of the failings of the candidates become plain to see. In this manner people can better choose the correct candidate deserving of his or her vote. I certainly would not only cheer this for the Republicans but also for the Democratic Party or any other party with candidates offering themselves for election. Then most certainly for the candidates in the general election. What a difference that would make. Just think, no more incessant hyping or mudslinging on television or radio. If the candidate wants to try that in the debate then have at it. I think the people will find it so repulsive as to negate any point the candidate has tried to make.

Jack Abramoff comes off as a person offended that the people he had bought turned on him. Perhaps there is an element of revenge and pettiness involved but that does not make unworthy his prescription on how to avoid such behavior in the future. Some of the most effective work has been done by people who have turned from a life of selfishness and wrongdoing. If some who castigated them be castigated themselves then so much the better.

This is one of the things that the “Occupy Wall Street” movement is protesting. It is criminal how those with money and influence are able to buy legislation that allows them to unfairly compete with those who don't have those resources.

My take on Jack Abramoff and political campaigning. What about you. How do you feel about the money in campaigns?

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