Lobbyists can skirt ethics reform, says Abramoff
Congress passed new ethics reform laws soon after the stink began to rise from the biggest political corruption scandal in decades. But the man at the center of that scandal, ex-lobbyist and now ex-convict Jack Abramoff, says new rules don't work, because lobbyists can always find ways around them. "We're smarter than they are and we'll overcome it," he tells Lesley Stahl in his first television interview that could be described as a buyer's guide to purchasing influence in Washington. The interview will be broadcast on "60 Minutes" Sunday, Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
Though he says he now regrets using cash and gifts to buy influence in Congress - among the crimes that landed him in prison for over three years - could he still do the same thing today despite new ethics laws? "Yeah... the system hasn't been cleaned up at all," he tells Stahl. "There's an arrogance on the part of lobbyists...that no matter what they come up with...we'll just find another way through."
The reforms are little more than window dressing says Abramoff, whose crimes resulted in charges brought against 20 congressional staffers, a congressman and several Bush administration officials. "You can't take a congressman to lunch for $25 and buy him a hamburger or steak...but you can take him to a fundraising lunch and not only buy him that steak, but give him $25,000 extra and call it a fundraiser...same access...same interaction with that congressman," says Abramoff. "So the people who make the reforms are the people in the system."
Whether it's an expensive gift, a job, event tickets, vacations or straight cash, Abramoff calls it all bribery and says nearly all politicians are guilty of it. "I am talking about giving a gift to somebody who makes a decision on behalf of the public and at the end of the day that's really what bribery is," he says. "But it's done every day and it's still being done...There were very few members [of Congress] ...who didn't at some level, participate in that."
Abramoff tells Stahl the number one weapon used to influence a member of Congress was the promise of a future, high-paying job to a member's top staffers. "Now the moment I said that to them or any of our staff said that to them, that was it. We owned them," he says. "And what does that mean? Every request...of our clients, everything that we want, they're going to do. Not only that, they're going to think of things we can't think of to do," Abramoff says.
Such tactics resulted in Abramoff's lobbying firm holding sway in the offices of about 100 congressional representatives, he says -- nothing to be proud of by this prince of payola's reckoning. "I would view that as a failure, because that leaves 335 offices that we didn't have strong influence in," he tells Stahl.
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