WASHINGTON (AP) — Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff spent two hours dispensing advice in one of Washington’s temples of good government Monday, telling soldiers in the cause of cleaning up corruption they have a lot of work ahead of them.
“I was deeply involved in a system of bribery” and nothing is going to be done to stop it unless the political forces of both the right and the left join together to change it, Abramoff told an audience at the offices of Public Citizen.
Ralph Nader founded Public Citizen four decades ago and a former president of the organization, Joan Claybrook, was on hand for Abramoff’s visit.
“Abramoff is uniquely situated to offer an insider’s view on the systemic problems in the influence industry,” said Public Citizen’s current president, Robert Weissman. “Learning about his illegal activities is illuminating. Even more important are the legal activities that remain the norm as practiced by countless super-lobbyists every day.”
His name now synonymous with corruption in the nation’s capital, Abramoff has been on a speaking tour since the publication of his book, “Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption from America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist.”
Abramoff spent 3 1/2 years in a federal penitentiary paying for bribery of public officials and other crimes before his release last year. The influence-peddling schemes he masterminded resulted in convictions of 20 people.
Federal lobbying laws were tightened up following the Abramoff scandal, but he says the improvements aren’t nearly enough. Abramoff’s drastic prescription for setting things straight: no campaign donations from lobbyists or anyone receiving federal contracts, term limits and a life-time lobbying ban on lawmakers and congressional staff.
Another much-needed change: Congress should widen the definition of lobbyist to include the kind of work that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich did for Freddie Mac, said Abramoff.
“Clearly people who are involved in strategic planning for lobbying campaigns, public affairs campaigns, any activity designed to impact legislation” should register as lobbyists, said Abramoff.
Abramoff was sentenced in 2006 for a fraudulent Florida casino deal and in 2008 for conspiring to defraud the U.S., corrupting public officials and defrauding his clients. Among the defrauded clients were Indian tribes operating casinos. Abramoff is the subject of a documentary film, “Casino Jack.” A fictionalized version, “Casino Jack and the United States of Money,” stars Kevin Spacey.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)