Washington's most notorious lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, pushes for reform

Published: Friday, Feb. 24 2012 9:56 p.m. MST

Former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was convicted in 2006 on charges of fraud, corruption and conspiracy, arrives to speak at Public Citizen, a consumer rights advocacy group, in Washington, Monday, Feb. 6, 2012.

Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

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SALT LAKE CITY — His name is synonymous with corruption in the nation's capital.

Jack Abramoff spent 3½ years in prison for bribery of public officials and other crimes before he was released last year. He's now promoting a new book and pushing for reform.

At the University of Utah on Thursday, Abramoff talked about his new book, "Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America's Most Notorious Lobbyist." He writes about how he rose to the top and ended up serving 43 months in federal prison, an experience he said changed him.

"I don't know that anybody is a completely changed person. I still have the potential to be that killer, that aggressive guy. I know it's there," Abramoff said.

Despite some "tinkering," he said the system of "legalized bribery" — where lobbyists shower politicians with gifts, dinner, sports tickets and campaign contributions — is alive and well.

"What's wrong is if you have a public servant and you're trying to get something from them and you give them something of financial value," Abramoff said. "That is, if it were a court, everyone would understand it's a bribe."

Now he backs reforms like forbidding lobbyists from giving public officials anything of value, not even a penny or a cup of coffee.

"What I'm saying is that everybody needs to stop," he said. "The system needs to be equal. There needs to be a level playing field, and the only way to do that is to change the law."

Abramoff wants to be just as influential as he once was, only this time as a voice for changing the system.

"I'm not trying to win a popularity contest. I'm not even trying to repair my reputation. I'm never going to do that," he said. "What I'm trying to do is make some recompense."

Email: jdaley@ksl.com

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