Sometimes it is remarkable how an old adage can transcend countries, governments, historical circumstances and cultures and somehow retain meaning and relevance. The resilience of one such adage is especially impressive, as it proves its modern worth by providing outsiders with a valuable explanation of the world of political lobbying. ‘Don’t bite the hand that feeds you,’ the very dictum that once attempted to discourage slaves from revolt, now illuminates the position of the politician when facing the lobbyist.
Lobbying is a profession that attempts to influence a governing body to pass legislation in favor of a desired goal. Practically all organizations and corporations hire lobbyists, in effect to pressure the government to act in a way that is conducive to their interests. Unfortunately, it is frequently the case that these very organizations who hire lobbyists are also campaign contributors, and large ones at that, to various politicians. The position of the politician is not hard to imagine; not working to implement policies that are favorable to his contributors’ lobbyists is tantamount to biting the hand that feeds him.
With such a slippery situation facing congressmen, the possibility for political corruption looms large, and I am glad to announce that our current Republican majority has not disappointed. Americans got their first glimpse of a congressman caught for bribery with California Republican Randy ‘Duke’ Cunningham. Last year Cunningham pled guilty to receiving bribes, as well as a luxurious house from a defense contractor in exchange for millions of dollars in defense and intelligence contracts.
Activists have long known the necessity of campaign finance reform; the pull to corruption is simply too strong as it is. Duke Cunningham’s bust only reaffirmed this view, and while I was glad to see justice meted out to Cunningham, the cynic in me could not help wonder how many more corrupt congressmen hadn’t been caught.
When the Abramoff story hit, this view would be more than justified, but even I did not envision a corruption scandal of this magnitude. Republican senator John McCain echoed these thoughts, saying ”Even in this town, where huge sums are routinely paid as the price of political access, the figures are astonishing.’
Yes, Washington’s most recent scandal has ruptured Pandora’s box in the world of political lobbying. The name Jack Abramoff has been breaking news on CNN, sufficient reason for dodging a question on Capitol Hill and a triumphant punch line on late night TV. Many readers may recall Abramoff as the man whose name was the subject of a George Clooney pun during his Golden Globe acceptance speech.
To be more precise, Jack Abramoff is a convicted felon and the current black sheep of Washington’s conservatives. Since his collegiate days, Abramoff has been heavily involved in a multitude of Republican organizations and conservative think tanks. In the past decade, working for companies such as the law firm Greenberg Traurig, Abramoff was a political lobbyist who managed to swindle Indian casinos out of tens of millions of dollars (estimates range from $66 to $85 million).
Quickly rewarding his Republican allies in congress, Abramoff donated an impressive amount of money. It is estimated that 201 incumbent congressmen were beneficiaries of his donating at least $1.7 million from 2001 to 2004. Therefore, when Abramoff pled guilty on January 3 to three felony counts including conspiracy to corrupt public officials, the implications were far reaching.
High-ranking Republicans were immediately implicated: the infamous Tom DeLay, Bob Ney and Republican senators from Montana, Texas, New Jersey and more. Many Republicans quickly attempted to donate to charity the money they received from Abramoff, among them were George W. Bush, J.D. Hayworth, Eric Cantor and Florida’s own Mel Martinez.
What does all this mean? Well, the extent of Abramoff’s contacts in Congress, coupled with his long history of Republican partisanship, indicate a major case of congressional corruption largely along party lines. It is true that Abramoff bribed some Democrats as well; this was not in some nonpartisan spirit, but rather because they were in a unique position to help him with his casino bilking.
The fact remains that the corruption in this case is overwhelmingly Republican, which is why Republicans should be barred from participating in the congressional committees investigating the depths of Abramoff’s crimes. His connections ran way too deep in the GOP for anywhere near a Republican majority investigative committee to bring to light the full extent of the corruption. Truth, in this particular case, is likely to greatly damage both countless Republican congressmen and the Republican Party as a whole.
An independent committee, or one made up of the Democratic opposition, is crucial to finding out exactly what transpired with Abramoff. This is absolutely necessary, since the findings of this committee are likely to demonstrate the profound need in the U.S. for campaign finance reform. Otherwise, the only check or balance to the Republican majority’s possible corruption is their much-vaunted moral values. In order to see if any Republicans are true to their word, we must follow the advice of heroic Watergate whistleblower W. Mark Felt and ‘follow the money.’ Doing so uncovers a picture of venal greed and self-serving corruption that the current majority will stop at nothing to hide.