Jack Abramoff: Lobbying Reform Passed By Congress Has Been Pretty Weak

Like other media outlets, TPM got an advance copy of Jack Abramoff’s new book, “Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist.”

We’ll have more highlights soon, but we wanted to flag a few paragraphs in which the disgraced lobbyist advocates for reforms to the political system and says what’s in place now isn’t doing jack:

Americans love reform. Each election is about reform, change, throwing the bums out. And yet, nothing ever changes. We see new faces, but we face the same problems. Why? Because it’s the system which needs to be changed not the current cast of characters running the system. But systems are hard to change. Each year, the congressional high priests offer a sacrifice to the idols of change. They pass reform bills, or change the rules in Congress. Ostensibly, these alterations are done to fix the system, yet nothing seems fixed. Is corruption in Washington really ended by insisting congressmen eat their food with their fingers standing up, rather than seated with forks and spoons? Yet this is the kind of reform which Congress proposes, passes, and then congratulates itself about.

For years, it has been difficult to pass legislation in the changed partisan congressional atmosphere. So a lobbyist trying to enact his client’s wishes needs to get his amendment onto a bill likely to pass both the House and the Senat, to then be signed by the president. No bill is more likely to pass than a reform bill. While there may be hiccups on the way, most reform bils will make it all the way to the president’s desk, so smart lobbyists always keep an eye out for reform bills.

It’s ironic, if not horrific, that this is the case. The very bills designed to limit corruption and improve our system of government sometimes serve as vehicles for special interests. Like fugitives surreptitiously searching for an escape car in the dead of night, too many lobbyists prospect for reform bills in the hope of attaching their amendments. To my great shame, I was part of that group too.

Abramoff goes on to describe how he met with Rep. Bob Ney at the restaurant ‘Signatures’ on March 20, 2002 and, “[b]etween trays of sushi,” convinced him to insert legislation into the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) favoring his client, the Coushatta. Ney, according to Abramoff, asked him to contact former Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT). Abramoff’s colleague Mike Scanlon dealt with Dodd’s team and came back with a request for a $50,000 contribution to the Democrats in Dodd’s name. Scanlon said he could cover the contribution from a budget the Tiguas provided.

“Oh course, neither of us considered for a moment that this ‘contribution’ was, in fact, merely a bribe,” Abramoff writes. “To us, it was just how politics worked.”