Jack Abramoff, who knows a thing or two about corrupt government, has some thoughts on how to end government corruption. Ironically, though, his ideas wouldn’t even have stopped the corruption Abramoff himself engaged in.
In the 3½ years he spent at Cumberland Federal Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Md., Abramoff says he paced the track at the medium security prison day after day, “consumed” by the problem of how government can be cleaned up.
One of the conclusions he draws is to entirely eliminate any campaign contributions by lobbyists, those bidding for federal contracts and anyone else who stands to benefit financially from public funds.
Lobbyists should not only be banned from making campaign donations, but they should also not be allowed to give gifts, he argues.
“Instead of limiting the amount of money a lobbyist may spend on wining and dining congressional members and staff, eliminate it entirely,” says Abramoff, himself guilty of once having lavished contributions, meals, event tickets, travel, golf and jobs on federal officials. “No finger food, no snacks, no hot dogs. Nothing.”
The ex-lobbyist also proposes eliminating the “lure of post-public service lobbying employment,” suggesting anyone who served in Congress or as a congressional aide should be “barred for life” from lobbying the government.
“That may seem harsh — and it is,” he says, but nonetheless adds, “If you choose public service, choose it to serve the public, not your bank account. When you’re done serving, go home. Get a real job.”
Banning political contributions and gifts from lobbyists would be a meaningless bit of reform. Lobbyists would get around that by having their clients make the contributions/gifts directly. Which is exactly what Abramoff did. Case in point, former Senator Byron Dorgan got $73,000 in contributions from Jack Abramoff’s clients, but maintains to this day that he never actually met Abramoff and never took any money from Abramoff. Which are both technically true, but Dorgan certainly knew who Abramoff’s clients were.
The truth is that the key to limiting government corruption is to limit government power. The less influence politicians have to sell to people like Abramoff and/or their clients the less corruption it will be.
Think of government as a sort of protection racket run by organized crime. Lobbyists facilitate tribute payments to the local bosses in exchange for favors. The more power the government has to sell, the bigger the tribute payments and the more need for lobbyists.