Tilting at Windmills

January/February 2012 Casino Jack knows what he’s talking about

By Charles Peters

I never expected to find myself in agreement with Jack Abramoff, who recently emerged from prison after serving three years for his leading role in one of Washington’s biggest corruption scandals. But as I watched the November 6 episode of 60 Minutes, I was nodding, “Yes, yes, that’s the way it’s done,” as he explained how he had corrupted congressmen and their staffers:

“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 for you to consider coming to work for us.’ Now, when I said that to them, or any one of our staff said that to them, that was it. We owned them.”

Abramoff was far from the only Washington lobbyist to dangle the prospect of future employment as an incentive for public officials to “cooperate.” It is a common practice, though often done with more subtlety, with a hint or two being enough. Indeed, a future job in return for favorable action by a public official has become such a common practice in some agencies that not even a hint is needed. The job is simply expected as a matter of course. Consider the case of the SEC employee whose wife testified, during their divorce hearing, that he had boasted to her about how she shouldn’t worry about the future because whenever he left the agency, he was certain to be able to cash in with one of the companies he now regulated.

Abramoff has a solution for this problem— at least for congressmen and their staffs: prohibit them from ever becoming lobbyists. I agree and would do the same for all federal employees. This solution is usually dismissed as too draconian, but believe it or not, congressmen once went home when they were defeated. And remember that they, and federal employees, have among the nation’s most generous retirement plans.

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly and the author of a new book on Lyndon B. Johnson published by Times Books.


  • Maggie on January 14, 2012 3:46 PM:

    I heard Abramoff on the radio and was impressed by what he said. I went so far as to buy his book.

    I believe he is correct and if we don't start following the money and doing something about it our Democracy will soon be a thing of the past. Who knew we could learn something from "Casino Jack"?!

  • Brian T. Raven on January 14, 2012 8:26 PM:

    On arrival, every member of Congress should be required to take a course on Conflicts of Interest. Clipped to the diploma on graduation day should be a one way ticket back home once their time is up. The exception would be if they decide to stick around to lobby on behalf of mental health, the homeless, the terminally ill, the common good, etc. Stray from that formula and soon enough, in the news, you'll be reading email exchanges like those that took place between Ralph Reed and Abramoff. That will test your gag reaction, and make you fighting mad....all over again. It happens because it's allowed to happen. Structure it so it's not likely to happen and the scumbags will be forced to go somewhere else to prey on the unsuspecting.

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  • Hsslaw on March 10, 2012 7:52 PM:

    You could also limit fundraising to the actual people that they represent. I don't see any reason why I have a first amendment right in a district where I don't live. Or in an elected official who doesnt represent me.

  • Daniel Buck on April 28, 2012 6:23 PM:

    Charlie, did you consider that Abramhoff was exaggerating? Both in terms of the offers and the "we owned them" boast. Abrahamoff strikes me as a yarner, pre-and-post conviction.