I'm always grateful when great material just falls into my lap, although there is no dearth American horror stories to post on. The Raw Story's Jack Abramoff: ‘The whole system’ is corrupt' is case in point. Superlobbyist Abramoff just got out of jail, and being free to talk, told 60 Minutes all about how to buy a congressman.
Notorious former lobbyist Jack Abramoff is a free man again, after serving three and a half years in prison for corruption and fraud. In an interview aired by CBS on Sunday, he told correspondent Leslie Stahl about the tricks of his former trade.
Abramoff, who readily admits to his former corrupt activities, told Stahl, “I was actually thinking of writing a book — The Idiot’s Guide to Buying a Congressman — as a way to put this all down. First, I think most congressmen don’t feel they’re being bought. Most congressmen, I think, can in their own mind justify the system — rationalize it — and, by the way, we wanted as lobbyists for them to feel that way.”
So how it is done? It turns out that if you offer the congressman's chief of staff a job, he's in your pocket from that moment on.
“I spent over a million dollars a year on tickets to sporting events and concerts and what not at all the venues,” Abramoff boasted. He insisted, however, that the very best way to buy the favors of a Congressional office is to offer the chief of staff a job.
“When we would become friendly with an office,” he explained, “and they were important to us, and the chief of staff was a competent person, I would say or my staff would say to him or her at some point, ‘You know, when you’re done working on the Hill, we’d very much like you to consider coming to work for us.’ Now the moment I said that to them or any of our staff said that to ‘em, that was it. We owned them.”
He told Stahl that he exercised that kind of influence in a hundred different Congressional offices and that many members of Congress could have been charged with crimes for the favors they did him.
Apparently most of the high-ranking staffers in the congress really want to make the big bucks on K Street, which is lobbying central in the Imperial Capital. They would rather be the bribers, not the bribees. Who'd a thunk it? I found a transcript of the interview. I'll use that instead of depending on The Raw Story.
Has anything changed? Not at all!
Abramoff: I think people are under the impression that the corruption only involves somebody handing over a check and getting a favor. And that's not the case. The corruption, the bribery, call it, because ultimately that's what it is. That's what the whole system is.
Stahl: The whole system's bribery?
Abramoff: In my view. I'm talking about giving a gift to somebody who makes a decision on behalf of the public. At the end of the day, that's really what bribery is.
But it is done everyday and it is still being done. The truth is there were very few members who I could even name or could think of who didn't at some level participate in that.
What about recent reforms?
Abramoff: Well, it's actually worse than that. You can't take a congressman to lunch for $25 and buy him a hamburger or a steak of something like that. But you can take him to a fundraising lunch and not only buy him that steak, but give him $25,000 extra and call it a fundraiser. And have all the same access and all the same interaction with that congressman. So the people who make the reforms are the people in the system.
Stahl: Could you do the same thing today? I'm asking you whether you think the system's been cleaned up?
Abramoff: Could do the same thing that I? Yeah. No, the system hasn't been cleaned up at all.
Stahl: At all.
Earlier in the interview, CBS's Lesley Stahl is upset by all this. She's angry with Jack Abramoff. Here's the outrage.
Stahl: You're telling me this, the genius of figuring out you could own the office by offering a job to the chief of staff, say. I'm having two reactions. One is brilliant. And the other is I'm sick to my stomach.
Abramoff: Right. Evil. Yeah. Terrible.
Stahl: 'Cause it's hurting our country.
Abramoff: Shameful. Absolutely. It's the worst thing that could happen. All parts of the system.
Stahl: I'm mad at you.
Abramoff: I was mad at me...
Stahl: I'm not kidding. I'm not kidding.
Leslie could have thought about this corruption thing a different way. You see, Leslie doesn't think she's part of the system. It's all Abramoff's fault. He's the evil one. She and her colleagues who report on this farce called American politics are off the hook. The whole systems' bribery? That's right. It hasn't been changed at all? Right again.
And there you are Leslie, and all those other well-heeled, celebrity stiffs in the mainstream media taking our political system seriously, reporting on it as if we live in a Democracy, pretending the system is legitimate, bamboozling the people. Leslie, are you complicit? Sure you are! Have you been enjoying the Good Life by looking the other way? You betcha!
It might have occurred to Leslie that her entire life is a sham, just like the political system she reports on. I suppose that would be too much to ask. I have two reactions, just like you, Leslie. One is brilliant, simply brilliant. You are able to stand in the celebrity spotlight while carrying out none of the obligations your job entails. And the other is I'm sick to my stomach. And why am I stick to my stomach? Because you're hurting this country, Leslie, and more specifically, you are hurting this country's working people. I'm not kidding either.
Here's the 60 Minutes interview.