The lobbyist’s playbook"

Hi Gang:
It is obvious that the great majority of our citizens, regardless of political orientation don’t trust politicians.
Every time there is an election we obviously get the best government money can buy!
I have often noted that it is insane that our elected “representatives” are not made to live up to the standards established for civil servants and professional law enforcement officers!  As a federal agent, I was not allowed to accept a cup of coffee while I acting in my official capacity!  Could you imagine what would happen if a federal agent or a police officer approached his superiors and boasted about being the best “fund raiser” in the office?  Yet that boast is often spewed by politicians who have come to believe that this is an incredible achievement!  It has been said that “Power corrupts!”  Make no mistake about it, so does money!
This past Sunday, November 6th the CBS News program, 60 Minutes did a truly good job of reporting on the corruption to be found on Capitol Hill that is clearly illustrated by the Jack Abramoff scandal.
I have attached a copy of the link to the broadcast and have copied the transcript of the program below.  If you click on the link you will be able to watch the entire video of this important report.
60 Minutes also has a segment they refer to as “60 Minutes Overtime” in which they provide additional information about a story that appeared on the program.
Here is the link to the 60 Minutes Overtime segment that relates to the Abramoff report:

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504803_162-57319068-10391709/jack-abramoff-inside-capitol-corruption/

This is not a “bedtime story” and it will do absolutely nothing to restore you faith in our government- but it is absolutely vital that as many of our fellow citizens understand how the corruption in Washington compromises the democratic process and does so much damage to our nation!

To provide you with a bit of background from my perspective, I have been to Washington many times and not just to appear before Congressional hearings.  I have, on occasion, gone to Washington to seek to speak with members of Congress or, at the very least, the staffers who generally act as the “gate keepers” who provide or deny access to the politicians.  They remind me of the guy at the door of an exclusive club whose job is to decide on who gets to go in.

These staffers also act as “filters” deciding on what information is passed to the member of Congress who employs them and what information is summarily discarded!
There are times that these staffers are extremely difficult to speak with and I have often had the sense that if only I could speak directly with the member of Congress for whom some of these staffers worked, I might be able to convince that politician of the need to secure our nation’s borders and work to create an immigration system with real integrity.
Let me make one point as clear as I can, some of the staffers I encountered could not have been more courteous and professional.  Today there are a number of such staffers including counsels and chiefs of staff with whom I have an excellent working relationship.  These staffers not only are an asset to their bosses, they are an asset for our nation- enabling members of Congress to hear more than one side to an argument.  This is how all of these staffers should do their jobs, to make certain that the system works as it should!
However, there are quite a few who I found to be surly and arrogant and even after a meeting with such folks, I truly wondered if they would even report back to the member of Congress for whom they worked that they had even had a meeting with me and others with whom I had gone to Washington in an effort to convince our politicians to make necessary changes.  I often wondered if reports I had handed to these staffers would not be tossed in the “circular file” as soon as I left the office and headed down the corridor to my next meeting!
The staffers control so much and many of them are relatively young (often in their mid-twenties) and are clearly seeking to propel their careers into the stratosphere as quickly as possible!  What is frustrating is that staffers who are grammatically challenged and can only conjugate verbs in the first person, singular, (not an unusual malady, especially in the “Halls of Power” in Washington), is that all too often they run interference for the Congressman for whom they work and do everything imaginable to insulate him (her) from folks who have legitimate issues and concerns.  What is really infuriating is that no one elected these employees but they wield incredible power and influence by the nature of their jobs and the way that Washington works- or, in fact, does not work! 
Please pay particular attention to the way that Abramoff managed to control these staffers- especially those at the top of the “food chain” in a Congressional member’s office!

The first step to solving problems is to identify the problem and then try to understand as much about the problem, in question, as possible.

Leslie Stahl should get an award for this report!

I

our country is to survive and if our children and their children are to get their share of the “American Dream” the citizens of this nation must take their citizenship seriously!

We the People must be the best citizens we can be, citizens who are worthy of the gallantry demonstrated by our valiant men and women in the military, law enforcement and firefighters, who routinely go in harm’s way in defense of this nation and our citizens.  
My goal in writing this and other commentaries is to point out our nations many failings before more victims pay the ultimate price for the incompetence and ineptitude of our government.
The first step in problem-solving is to first identify the problems and vulnerabilities and then devise strategies to overcome them.
If you find yourself to be in agreement with this commentary, I ask that you forward it to as many of your friends and family members as possible and encourage them to do the same.  We need to create a “Bucket Brigade of Truth!”

The practice of good citizenship does not end in the voting booth, it only begins there.

For far too long our citizens demonstrated apathy which emboldened elected representatives to all but ignore the needs of the average American citizen in a quest for massive campaign funds and the promises of votes to be ostensibly delivered by special interest groups. 

It is therefore understandable that the politicians of both parties, are greatly concerned about the demonstrations currently sweeping our nation just as did the creation of the Tea Party.  Clearly  more and more of our fellow Americans are demonstrating that they are not as dumb as the politicians from both parties had expected us to be!

I am encouraged that more and more of us, We the People, are not willing to simply sit on the sidelines anymore!

I believe our nation’s is greatly benefited by the rich diversity of our people which is why I could never imagine living anywhere except New York City, arguably the most diverse city in our nation if not, in fact, the world.  However, my idea of diversity most certainly does not include members of MS-13, the Mexican drug cartels or members of other transnational gangs or members of al-Qaeda!

If our government’s failures to secure our nation’s borders and effectively enforce our immigration laws concerns you or especially if it angers you, I ask you to call your Senators and Congressional “Representative. This is not only your right- it is your obligation! 

All I ask is that you make it clear to our politicians that we are not as dumb as they hope we are!

We live in a perilous world and in a perilous era. The survival of our nation and the lives of our citizens hang in the balance.

This is neither a Conservative issue, nor is it a Liberal issue- simply stated, this is most certainly an AMERICAN issue!

You are either part of the solution or you are a part of the problem!

Democracy is not a spectator sport!

Lead, follow or get out of the way!

-michael cutler- 


Please check out my website:

       
On Friday evenings from 7:00 PM until 8:00 PM Eastern Daylight Savings Time, I my show, “The Michael Cutler Hour” on the USA Talk Radio Network on Blog Talk Radio.
I hope you will be listening!  (Please tell your friends and neighbors!)
Here is a link to the program:


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November 6, 2011 7:04 PM

Jack Abramoff: The lobbyist’s playbook


 (CBS)

Watch
the Segment »

Crooked lobbyist Jack Abramoff explains how he asserted his
influence in Congress for years, and how such corruption continues
today despite ethics reform. Lesley Stahl reports.

Web Extras

(CBS News) 

Jack Abramoff, the notorious former lobbyist at the center of
Washington’s biggest corruption scandal in decades, spent more than
three years in prison for his crimes. Now a free man, he reveals how
he was able to influence politicians and their staffers through
generous gifts and job offers. He tells Lesley Stahl the reforms
instituted in the wake of his scandal have had little effect.


The following is a script of “The Lobbyist’s Playbook”
which aired on Nov. 6, 2011.

Jack Abramoff may be the most notorious and crooked lobbyist of
our time. He was at the center of a massive scandal of brazen
corruption and influence peddling.

As a Republican lobbyist starting in the mid 1990s, he became a
master at showering gifts on lawmakers in return for their votes on
legislation and tax breaks favorable to his clients. He was so good
at it, he took home $20 million a year.


How corrupt is lobbying
in Washington, DC? Enough to get “60 Minutes” correspondent
Lesley Stahl angry when she hears how Jack Abramoff bribed and
influenced legislators.

It all came crashing down five years ago, when Jack Abramoff pled
guilty to corrupting public officials, tax evasion and fraud, and
served three and a half years in prison.

Today he’s a symbol of how money corrupts Washington. In our
interview tonight, he opens up his playbook for the first time.

And explains exactly how he used his clients’ money to buy
powerful friends and influence legislation.

Jack Abramoff: I was so far into it that I couldn’t figure out
where right and wrong was. I believed that I was among the top moral
people in the business. I was totally blinded by what was going on.

Jack Abramoff was a whiz at influencing legislation and one way he
did that was to get his clients, like some Indian tribes, to make
substantial campaign contributions to select members of Congress.

Abramoff: As I look back it was effective. It certainly helped the
people I was trying to help, both the clients and the Republicans at
that time.

Lesley Stahl: But even that, you’re now saying, was corrupt?

Abramoff: Yes.

Stahl: Can you quantify how much it costs to corrupt a
congressman?

Abramoff: I was actually thinking of writing a book – “The
Idiot’s Guide to Buying a Congressman” – as a way to put this
all down. First, I think most congressmen don’t feel they’re being
bought. Most congressmen, I think, can in their own mind justify the
system.

Stahl: Rationalize.

Abramoff: –rationalize it and by the way we wanted as lobbyists
for them to feel that way.

Abramoff would provide freebies and gifts – looking for favors for
his clients in return. He’d lavish certain congressmen and senators
with access to private jets and junkets to the world’s great golf
destinations like St. Andrews in Scotland. Free meals at his own
upscale Washington restaurant and access to the best tickets to all
the area’s sporting events; including two skyboxes at Washington
Redskins games.

Abramoff: I spent over a million dollars a year on tickets to
sporting events and concerts and what not at all the venues.

Stahl: A million dollars?

Abramoff: Ya. Ya.

Stahl: For the best seats?

Abramoff: The best seats. I had two people on my staff whose
virtual full-time job was booking tickets. We were Ticketmaster for
these guys.

Stahl: And the congressman or senator could take his favorite
people from his district to the game–

Abramoff: The congressman or senator uh, could take two dozen of
his favorite people from their district.

Stahl: Was all that legal?

Abramoff: We would certainly try to make the activity legal, if we
could. At times we didn’t care.

But the “best way” to get a congressional office to do
his bidding – he says – was to offer a staffer a job that could
triple his salary.

Abramoff: When we would become friendly with an office and they
were important to us, and the chief of staff was a competent person,
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 you
to consider coming to work for us.” Now the moment I said that
to them or any of our staff said that to ’em, that was it. We owned
them. And what does that mean? Every request from our office, every
request of our clients, everything that we want, they’re gonna do.
And not only that, they’re gonna think of things we can’t think of to
do.

Neil Volz: Jack Abramoff could sweet talk a dog off a meat truck,
that’s how persuasive he was.

Neil Volz was one of the staffers Abramoff was talking about. He
was chief of staff to Congressman Bob Ney, who as chairman of the
House Administration Committee had considerable power to dispense
favors. Abramoff targeted Volz and offered him a job.

Stahl: You’re the chief of staff of a powerful congressman. And
Jack owns you and you haven’t even left working for the congressman.

Volz: I have the distinct memory of, you know, negotiating with
Jack at a hockey game. So we’re, you know, just a few rows back. The
crowd’s goin’ crazy. And Jack and I are havin’ a business
conversation. And, you know, I’m– I’m wrestlin’ with how much I
think I should get paid. And then five minutes later we’re– he’s
askin’ me questions about some clients of his.

Stahl: When you look back was that the corrupting moment?

Volz: I think we were guilty of engaging in a corrupt
relationship. So there were several corrupting moments. There isn’t
just one moment. There were many.

Abramoff: At the end of the day most of the people that I
encountered who worked on Capitol Hill wanted to come work on K
Street, wanted to be lobbyists.

Stahl: You’re telling me this, the genius of figuring out you
could own the office by offering a job to the chief of staff, say.
I’m having two reactions. One is brilliant. And the other is I’m sick
to my stomach.

Abramoff: Right. Evil. Yeah. Terrible.

Stahl: ‘Cause it’s hurting our country.

Abramoff: Shameful. Absolutely. It’s the worst thing that could
happen. All parts of the system.

Stahl: I’m mad at you.

Abramoff: I was mad at me–

Stahl: I’m not kidding. I’m not kidding.

Abramoff: Look I did things and I was involved in the system I
should not have been in. I’m ashamed of the fact I was there, the
very reason why now I’m speaking about it. And now I’m trying to do
something, in recompense, is the fact that I thought it was– it was
wrong of me to do it.

One of the offices he keyed on was that of his good friend, the
Majority Leader Tom Delay, eventually hiring his deputy chief of
staff and his press secretary, and going into business with Delay’s
chief of staff.

Stahl: Did you own his staff?

Abramoff: I was as close to his staff as to any staff. I had a
very strong personal relationship with a lot of his staff.

Stahl: How many congressional offices did you actually own?

Abramoff: We probably had very strong influence in 100 offices at
the time.

Stahl: Come on.

Abramoff: No.

Stahl: A hundred offices?

Abramoff: In those days, I would view that as a failure. Because
that leaves 335 offices that we didn’t have strong influence in.

Stahl: Did he own you?

Bob Ney: Oh, I don’t believe Jack Abramoff owned me. But were we
involved in the culture of corruption together? Absolutely.

Former Republican Congressman Bob Ney was ambitious and looked at
Abramoff as a way to build alliances with the White House and the
majority leader.

Ney: I wanted to be speaker of the House and Jack Abramoff was the
beautiful light of day for me to get to the person who I had had some
conflicts with, Tom Delay.

Abramoff began inviting Ney on golf trips including one to
Scotland and to his restaurant Signatures, where Ney was given
food and drinks on the house, a violation of the congressional gift
limit laws. Ney says he was hardly the only one crossing the line.

Ney: But I will still tell you, at that point in time, in order to
get a drink at Signatures you had to shove White House
staffers of George Bush the heck away from the bar. And it was packed
with people. And there were members. Now that doesn’t mean everybody
did everything for Jack. But if you wanna talk about strict
interpretation of violation of the– of– of the laws of drink and
food, Katey bar the door, she was wide open, two shotguns blarin’.

After months of taking handouts, Ney was approached by Neil Volz,
his former chief of staff, by then a lobbyist for Abramoff.

Volz: I let you down man and I’m sorry…

Volz asked Ney to insert some language into a reform bill that
would give a backdoor license to an Indian casino owned by one of
Abramoff’s clients. You often hear about lobbyists getting special
secret deals for their clients like this. It’s an insidious technique
that Abramoff perfected.

Abramoff: So what we did was we crafted language that was so
obscure, so confusing, so uninformative, but so precise to change the
U.S. code.

Stahl: Here’s what you tried to get tacked on to this reform bill.

Abramoff: Yeah.

Stahl: “Public law 100-89 is amended by striking section 207
(101 stat. 668, 672).”

Abramoff: Right. Now isn’t that obvious what that means? It was
perfect. It was perfect.

Stahl: So that’s what you tried to get inserted?

Stahl: And that was gonna provide for a casino?

Abramoff: Yes.

Stahl: And who on earth is gonna know that?

Abramoff: No one except the chairmen of the committees.

Stahl: Who stuck it in there?

Abramoff: Yes.

Stahl: And that’s one of the things you used to do?

Abramoff: Yes.

Stahl: And it was deliberately written like that?

Abramoff: Precisely. Yes.

Stahl: And that’s done a lot?

Abramoff: Members don’t read the bills.

Stahl: You didn’t even know what it was for?

Ney: Had no idea. And then when we got the written language–

Stahl: Well– why didn’t you know what it was for?

Ney: I didn’t– I didn’t care.

Stahl: Oh!

Ney: It was a great big shell game. And I was in the middle of it,
whether, you know, knowing or not. I– I was dumb enough to not say,
“What’s this thing do?”

Ney would eventually serve 17 months in federal prison, the only
congressman who was ever charged in the scandal. But Abramoff says
that there were many other members that did his bidding that could
have been charged.

Stahl: Was buying favors from lawmakers easy?

Abramoff: I think people are under the impression that the
corruption only involves somebody handing over a check and getting a
favor. And that’s not the case. The corruption, the bribery, call it,
because ultimately that’s what it is. That’s what the whole system
is.

Stahl: The whole system’s bribery?

Abramoff: In my view. I’m talking about giving a gift to somebody
who makes a decision on behalf of the public. At the end of the day,
that’s really what bribery is. But it is done everyday and it is
still being done. The truth is there were very few members who I
could even name or could think of who didn’t at some level
participate in that.

Abramoff prided himself on being a man who did good. He was
devoutly religious and exorbitantly charitable and he says he gave
away 80 percent of his earnings. When he fell from grace, his
reputation was in tatters because it was not just that he had
corrupted Congress – it was found he had cheated his clients, like
the Indian tribes.

Abramoff: Most of the money I made I gave away, to either communal
or charitable causes. So I thought frankly I was one of the most
moral lobbyists out there.

Things began to unravel for Abramoff when the Washington Post
published a largely unflattering portrait of him in 2004, reporting
that he charged his clients 10 times more than any other lobbyist in
town.

Abramoff: My first response was, “What’s the big deal? I
don’t understand what this is about. This is what lobbyists do.

What he didn’t understand was the part that said he and a former
aide to Tom Delay had overbilled four of his Indian casino clients by
$45 million.

In the end, he was brought up on federal charges of tax evasion
and ripping off Indian tribes. On the day he went to court and pled
guilty, Abramoff looked grim. The judge sentenced him to four years.

Stahl: I really think what you were doing was– was subverting the
essence of our system.

Abramoff: Yes. Absolutely right. But our system is flawed and has
to be fixed. Human beings populate our system. Human beings are weak.

Stahl: And you preyed on that?

Abramoff: I did. I was one of many who did. I did. And I’m ashamed
of that fact.

He was sent to a medium security facility in Cumberland, Maryland.
When he was released last June, he began working as an accountant at
a kosher pizza parlor. Turns out Jack Abramoff was broke, partly
because he is paying off nearly $24 million in restitution to the
Indian tribes. Today he lives in his old house in Maryland with his
wife, five children and the two doberman pinschers Mrs. Abramoff
bought to protect the family while he was away.

After the scandal, Congress instituted a package of reforms,
making what Abramoff did – like plying members of Congress with free
expensive meals – illegal. But he doesn’t see the new reforms as
being very effective.

Abramoff: The reform efforts continually are these faux-reform
efforts where they’ll change, they’ll tweak the system. They’ll say,
“You can have a meal with a congressman if they’re standing up,
not sitting down.”

Stahl: Is that serious? Or are you joking?

Abramoff: Oh no, I’m not joking at all.

Stahl: So, it’s okay if you pay for lunch as long as you stand up?

Abramoff: Well, it’s actually worse than that. You can’t take a
congressman to lunch for $25 and buy him a hamburger or a steak of
something like that. 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. And have all the same access and all the same interaction
with that congressman. So the people who make the reforms are the
people in the system.

Stahl: Could you do the same thing today? I’m asking you whether
you think the system’s been cleaned up?

Abramoff: Could do the same thing that I? Yeah. No, the system
hasn’t been cleaned up at all.

Stahl: At all.

Abramoff: There’s an arrogance on the part of lobbyists, and
certainly there was on the part of me and my team, that no matter
what they come up we, we’re smarter than they are and we’ll overcome
it. We’ll just find another way through. That’s all.

He says the most important thing that needs to be done is to
prohibit members of Congress and their staff from ever becoming
lobbyists in Washington.

Abramoff: If you make the choice to serve the public, public
service, then serve the public, not yourself. When you’re done, go
home. Washington’s a dangerous place. Don’t hang around.

Former Congressman Bob Ney now works part-time as a radio host.

His former chief of staff Neil Volz is currently working as a
night janitor at a Florida restaurant.

And Jack Abramoff has written a memoir called “Capitol
Punishment.”

Ira Rosen is the producer.


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