Disgraced Washington, DC superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, released from jail in June, has a few suggestions for lobbying reform. He should know. Most of this stuff is primarily applicable to the US, but in the Netherlands too, the donation system is vague and the revolving door (the practice of former public officials getting high-paid jobs at companies they used to regulate) is unfortunately a very prominent aspect of political life. As witnessed by certain ministers of Transportation becoming directors of major airline companies.
From an interview with Abramoff:
Disgraced ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff is out of jail. He was released in June. He now works as an accountant at a kosher pizza parlor. And he needs a literary agent. “I was actually thinking of writing a book,” he told “60 Minutes.” “The Idiot’s Guide to Buying a Congressman.”
In the interview, Abramoff gives away some of the tricks of his former trade. The big one? Dangle a job, he told Lesley Stahl. “When we would become friendly with an office and they were important to us, and the chief of staff was a competent person, I would say or my staff would say to him or her at some point, ‘You know, when you’re done working on the Hill, we’d very much like you to consider coming to work for us.’ Now the moment I said that to them or any of our staff said that to ’em, that was it. We owned them. And what does that mean? Every request from our office, every request of our clients, everything that we want, they’re gonna do. And not only that, they’re gonna think of things we can’t think of to do.”
Abramoff had softer methods, too. “I spent over a million dollars a year on tickets to sporting events and concerts and whatnot at all the venues,” he says. “I had two people on my staff whose virtual full-time job was booking tickets. We were Ticketmaster for these guys.”
Once the key staffers or legislators were bought, the trick was getting clients what they wanted without attracting attention. “So what we did was we crafted language that was so obscure, so confusing, so uninformative, but so precise.” The following line of text, for instance, quietly won Abramoff’s Native American clients a casino license: “Public law 100-89 is amended by striking section 207 (101 stat. 668, 672).”
From his book on tips for lobbying reform:
Ban donations from lobbyists and those who receive public funds. “Instead of limiting the size of every American’s political contribution, we need to entirely eliminate any contribution by those lobbying the government, participating in a federal contract, or otherwise financially benefiting from public funds. If you get money or perks from elected officials — be ‘you’ a company, a union, an association, a law firm, or an individual — you shouldn’t be permitted to give them so much as one dollar.
No gifts. “Not only should lobbyists be banned from contributing to officials’ organizations and campaign funds, they should be banned from gift-giving as well.
Stop the revolving door altogether. “Next, the lure of post-public service lobbying employment needs to be eliminated. The revolving door is one of the greatest sources of corruption in government. If you choose to serve in Congress or on a congressional staff, you should be barred for life from working for any company, organization, or association which lobbies the federal government. That may seem harsh — and it is. But there’s a reason. Congressmen know better than anyone how to get around a ban on lobbying. They ‘consult.’ What’s the difference? If you lobby, you officially try to persuade a representative or staff. If you consult, you call the representative to say hello and ask that representative to meet with you new partner at the law firm. You don’t lobby. Your partner lobbies. Does anyone believe the representative doesn’t get that joke?”