Abramoff Plea Isn’t the End of Corruption in Washington; Congress Must Step In

January 3, 2006

Abramoff Plea Isn’t the End of Corruption in Washington; Congress Must Step In

Statement of Frank Clemente, Director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch

Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s plea agreement with the Department of Justice is likely to take down a number of members of Congress and members of their staffs. But we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that lobbyist corruption has been nipped in the bud with Abramoff’s confession.

Make no mistake about it: Abramoff is a crook. But crooks like Abramoff can flourish in the environment on Capitol Hill where lobbyists and their clients offer lawmakers campaign contributions and gifts, arrange travel junkets for lawmakers and their staffs to luxurious golf resorts in foreign countries, and promise six- or seven-figure lobbying jobs in the private sector once a lawmaker leaves office.

Little will change unless Congress passes legislation to curtail the influence-peddling industry. Lawmakers should follow the lead of California, where lobbyists are not allowed to make campaign contributions to those whom they lobby. Congress also should follow the lead of Florida, Massachusetts and Wisconsin, where lobbyists are prohibited from offering gifts of any value to federal officials. And following the lead of the Aspen Institute, one of the key sponsors of educational travel for officeholders, lawmakers should prohibit lobbyists from paying for or arranging travel for officeholders; in fact, lobbyists should not even be allowed to travel with lawmakers to these events.

Jack Abramoff and the officeholders whom he appears to have bribed must pay the price for their crimes or ethical transgressions. But if we really want to clean up Washington, Congress must enhance disclosure and regulate the behavior of lobbyists.

A good place to start is for the Senate and House to quickly consider bills sponsored by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), S. 1398; Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.), S. 2128/H.R. 4575; and Marty Meehan (D-Mass.), H.R. 2412. The bills would crack down on lobbying abuses.

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For more information, visit www.lobbyinginfo.org.