How Jack Abramoff Says He Bought 100 Members of Congress

The offer of future high paying jobs to staff members proved to be his most effective tool


In his daily e-mail newsletter for Washington insiders, Mike Allen previewed Jack Abramoff's upcoming appearance on "60 Minutes. "The most noteworthy line included in the sneak peak concerns what Abramoff called the most effective way to influence federal legislators -- the promise that at some future date their top staffers will be hired at a high paying job in private enterprise.

Allen quotes Abramoff being interviewed by Lesley Stahl:

...the number-one weapon used to influence a member of Congress was the promise of a future, high-paying job to a member's top staffers. 'Now the moment I said that to them or any of our staff said that to them, that was it. We owned them,' Abramoff said . 'And what does that mean? Every request ... of our clients, everything that we want, they're going to do. Not only that, they're going to think of things we can't think of to do' ... Such tactics resulted in Abramoff's lobbying firm holding sway in the offices of about 100 Congressional representatives, he says ... 'I would view that as a failure, because that leaves 335 offices that we didn't have strong influence in.'

This brings me back to a feature National Journal did a few years back titled "Should the Hill K-Street Revolving Door Be Closed?" Marty Russo, the CEO of the lobbying firm Cassidy & Associates, had this to say:

In my view, these reform efforts fuel the inaccurate perception that lobbyists somehow drive the conversation in Washington. The truth is that Members of Congress make decisions on issues based on what is right for the interests of their constituents. Period. Members are accountable at every election to the voters of their state or district - I can assure you that it is the voters they care about. Anyone who has run as a candidate in a political contest knows this very well. The American people hold you accountable for your positions.

To suggest that a Member of Congress would make a decision against the interests of their constituents based on the "influence" of a former staffer is an insult to the Member and a fundamental mischaracterization of how real life lobbying operates.

Despite the dubiousness of the argument I've quoted, I recommend the whole symposium. And I encourage Abramoff to name specific names now that he's coming forward with his story. The American people have an interest in knowing which 100 members of Congress he thought he owned.

Image credit: Reuters

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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