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Casino Jack at Public Citizen

Yes, yes, we know, it was very strange. Notorious ex-Super lobbyist Jack Abramoff at Public Citizen?!  Don’t you remember what he had to say about Native Americans?! What’s the deal with him being a blogger at United Republic?! Is he promoting his book? Didn’t you read this article in Mother Jones? Yes. Sadly, yes. Not sure. Probably, though no copies here. And, of course.

However, as Public Citizen President Robert Weissman explained to the Washington Post: “We’re not inviting him here to give him a citizen of the year award.” Said Weissman, “He has credibility in explaining how lobbyists exert influence.” And, he also has some pretty radical ideas. For example, Abramoff thinks that to truly reform government anyone with pecuniary interest (from government contractors, to corporations lobbying for a tax break) should be prohibited from donating to campaigns. He also has aggressive views about the revolving door problem in Washington. While ethics laws were passed after his scandal requiring a “time off” period between when a congressional staffer could work on the Hill and take a job at a lobby shop, Abramoff thinks former staffers should, in fact, be prohibited from working as lobbyists forever.

Abramoff said of those he lobbied on the Hill, “It seemed 90-percent of staffers wanted to come work for me.” Their motivation was a better-paying job. The motivation for politicians themselves to interact with and ultimately to do favors for lobbyists: time. He explained that the way to get a politician in your pocket was by bringing them a check for their campaign that could save them a few hours of dialing up potential donors and trying to raise the same amount the next afternoon.

When Abramoff entered our “temple of good government” he admitted, “If somebody told me a number of years ago that I’d be sitting in this room, in this building, talking to all of you and not have handcuffs on or something– I’d never have believed you.” He is still a conservative and there are lots of things with which we would never agree with him on. Nevertheless, as he pointed out when it comes to many money and politics issues, “It is not conservative to defend this system, this corruption.” And, as Peter Overby from NPR observed:

“. . . [Abramoff] posited that these reforms are something that conservatives and liberals can agree on. Nobody at Public Citizen disagreed.”