Abramoff criticizes reforms after lobbying scandal

By Nedra Pickler

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Nov. 5 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

But Abramoff dismisses the reforms as toothless. He says there are more effective ways to get powerbrokers to do a client's bidding, particularly political contributions that he says should be banned from lobbyists or anyone receiving federal contracts or otherwise benefiting from public funds.

"As a lobbyist, I thought it only natural and right that my clients should reward those members who saved them such substantial sums with generous contributions. This quid pro quo became one of the hallmarks of our lobbying efforts," Abramoff writes.

"What I did not consider then, and never considered until I was sitting in prison, was that contributions from parties with an interest in legislation are really nothing but bribes. Sure, it's legal for the most part. Sure, everyone in Washington does it. Sure, it's the way the system works. It's one of Washington's dirty little secrets — but it's bribery just the same."

Abramoff says term limits would prevent lawmakers from getting too close to special interests. He also says lawmakers and their staff should be banned for life from working for any organization that lobbies.

The movement of congressional figures to lobbying is pervasive in Washington. The Internet site LegiStorm tracks those who move from the Hill to K Street, where many lobbying firms have offices, and says there have been 493 already this year.

Abramoff said he would often get access inside congressional offices by suggesting to key staffers that they come work for him when they were finished with their congressional careers.

"Assuming the staffer had any interest in leaving Capitol Hill for K Street — and almost 90 percent of them do — I would own him and, consequentially, the entire office," Abramoff writes. "No rules had been broken, at least not yet. No one even knew what was happening, but suddenly, every move that staffer made, he made with his future at my firm in mind. His paycheck may have been signed by the Congress, but he was already working for me."

The exposure of the Abramoff scandal became the subject of congressional hearings where Abramoff repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment Constitutional protection against incriminating himself and did not respond to questions. He writes in the book that most of the senators who were vilifying him were hypocrites who had taken thousands from his clients and firms.

"I stared stone-faced at (former Colorado Republican Sen. Benjamin Nighthorse) Campbell as he hurled invectives at me," Abramoff writes. "I wondered how he'd react if I reminded him about the $25,000 in campaign checks I delivered to him during our breakfast meeting at posh Capitol Hill eatery La Colline the morning of April 23, 2002. I'll never forget that breakfast. After I handed him the envelope full of campaign contributions, he let me know that my clients would be treated well by his Indian Affairs Committee."

Former North Dakota Democratic Sen. "Byron Dorgan railed against the 'cesspool of greed' surrounding my practice," Abramoff writes. "I guess it wasn't a cesspool when he had his hand out to take over $75,000 in campaign contributions from our team and clients."

Dorgan said in response that he's never met Abramoff or received a campaign contribution from him.

"It's not surprising he writes a book that criticizes those of us who led the investigation that sent him to prison," Dorgan wrote in an email to the AP. "The record of our investigation exposed his corrupt behavior. He bilked Indian tribes out of tens of millions of dollars and he should be forever ashamed.

Campbell did not respond to a request for comment.

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