Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How Public Policies and Sausages Should Not Be Made

Jack Abramoff. Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist. Washington, D.C.: WND Books, 2011.
Abramoff was an inactive member of the College Republicans while a student at Brandeis University.  Brandeis hosted the state College Republican convention and had the largest delegation there.  The Brandeis delegation realized they could elect one of their own as state College Republican President.  No one in the room of Brandeis students volunteered to run until Abramoff raised his hand, and his life changed.  He was elected and decided to then excel at politics.  He met Grover Norquist.  They planned canvassing college campuses and registered Republicans to vote.  They helped create 41 College Republican chapters in Massachusetts.
Abramoff and Norquist worked to successfully get Abramoff elected national College Republican (CR) President. He met Ralph Reed during this campaign. Abramoff made Reed the CR’s Executive Director as Reed agreed to work for little pay and for living on Abramoff’s couch.  The CRs demonstrated in front of the Soviet Embassy, gathered signatures supporting Lech Walesa in Poland, and conducted mock smashings of the Berlin Wall.  Norquist then served as CR’s Executive Director after Reed returned to college.
Abramoff and Norquist had $12,000 annual salaries working for CR.  Abramoff also had part time work as Executive Director of Howard Phillips’ Conservative Caucus.
Reed managed Abramoff’s campaign for reelection. He had a spy enter the opposition campaign who then denounced Abramoff’s opponent before the vote.  Abramoff was reelected and notes he was “drunk on the quest for what passed as power in those days. I ignored my inner voice and marched forward.”
After serving with the CRs, Abramoff became Executive Director of Citizens for America, a pro-Reagan organization.  Norquist became Field Director.
While lobbying in favor of Reagan’s proposal to fund MX missiles, Congress was six votes shorts when Rep. Albert Bustamonte promised to switch 13 votes of the Hispanic Caucus in support of the bill if a naval base was placed in Busamonte’s district.  Abramoff told this to the White House who then approved Abramoff telling Bustamonte they had a deal.
Abramoff became involved in film producing.  He used Canadian tax credts in making one movie.
Republicans became the majority part in Congress after the 1994 elections.   A need to hire more Republicans as lobbyists emerged.  Abramoff was hired to a $150,000 annual salary as a lobbyist for a law firm representing Microsoft as their largest client.
Abramoff lobbied for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) to be exempt from Federal minimum wage laws and other labor laws while being permitted to use “Made in the U.S.A.” on their labels.  Chinese agencies charged high agency fees for people to obtain jobs in the CNMI.  This was a problem for some members of Congress. Abramoff took any member of Congress and Congressional staffers who wanted to do so to visit CNMI.  CNMI paid for the trips to get around Congressional travel rules since government bodies were exempt from the rules.
The CNMI legislature met in the morning and would typically break at mid-afternoon to play golf.
Abramoff also represented Indian tribal gaming against efforts to place a 30$ business tax on their gaming revenues.  Abramoff’s firm billed clients $20,000 a month.  Most other firms charged $10,000 a month.
Abramoff received Norquist’s assistance in arguing that taxing gaming was still a tax.  Norquist formed a group that fought new taxes and higher taxes.  Abramoff also argued that Republicans could be charged with racism for trying to tax only Indian enterprises. They helped kill this. Abramoff suggested the Indian tribes make contributions to members of Congress who opposed the tax proposal.  Abramoff notes that “contributions from parties with an interest in legislation are really nothing but bribes.”
Abramoff’s lobbying technique was to become close to the power source in most Congressional offices, which is the Chief of Staff.  Abramoff would indicate he would be interested in having the Chief of Staff work for him. Abramoff knew 90% of Congressional staff seek to become lobbyists, which have higher pay.  Abramoff admits this was a “perfectly corrupt” means to get access to Chiefs of Staff and influence them.  
Abramoff hired many Chiefs of Staff, who themselves had access.  This also bolstered Abramoff’s influence with other Chiefs of Staff.
Abramoff kept Imelda Marcos out of jail.  He negotiated a deal with a threat Marcos and he would lobby to destroy the Philippine Presidency’s foreign influence if she wasn’t kept out of jail.  A deal went through where she avoided jail.
Abramoff lobbied for online gambling.  He argued the bill prohibiting online gambling had exceptions.  Abramoff had these exceptions removed knowing this would kill support for the final bill.
Abramoff moved to another firm.  Clients typically paid $100,000 a month while several paying $150,000 a month.  Abramoff argues his firm spent more time on clients that those that charge $10,000 a month. Further, Abramoff claims, “we delivered.”
Senator John McCain tried to reverse the Indian Chief Welfare Act that allowed tribes to prevent non-Native Americans from adopting Native American children.  Abramoff represented the tribes by opposing McCain’es efforts.
Abramoff learned the Indian Affairs Bureau failed to complete placing some Choctaw land into trusteeship in 1927.  Abramoff successfully lobbies to have the land declared “original reservation” which gave the Choctaw more flexibility in economically developing the land.
Abramoff worked with various tribes on gaming issues.  He helped win gaming rights for them.  Cryptic legislation that understood passed providing gaming rights to his client rather than to other tribes.
Senator McCain and the press were critical of Abramoff’s high fees and maneuverings as a lobbyist.  McCain subpoenaed his law firm’s 800,000 emails.  Abramoff was then fired from his firm.
Abramoff was indicted and convicted for bank fraud.  In retrospect, he realized members of Congress should do away with getting projects for their districts for supporting each other’s bills.  He also believes Congress should not be allowed to exempt itself from legislation.


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