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Willisms

« Pundit Roundtable | WILLisms.com | My Allergy Skin Test. »

Challenge To Our Readers: Jack Abramoff

I have avoided following the whole Jack Abramoff imbroglio thus far, because the entire topic just bores me. Okay, Washington can be a very corrupt place - this is news?

If you think I have avoided this issue because I am a shill for George Bush and the Republicans (I am) and that I can't face a Republican scandal, well, in the words of the great philosopher Curtis Sliwa, you could not be more hopelessly wrong! I found the Plame Affair endlessly fascinating, for example, because that story had real intrigue.

The Abramoff thing just makes my eyes glaze over.

It doesn't seem to be getting a lot of traction in the press or among the public at large either, and my theory as to why is exactly that: political corruption is par for the course. Moreover, only hardcore political junkies (and Democrats slobbering to take back a house of Congress) would take the time to inform themselves on the intricacies of this issue. Thus, the vast bulk of the voting american public simply yawns and asks for the remote.

Here is my challenge: explain to me, in one succinct sentence, or short paragraph at most, what Abramoff and his cohorts did that was wrong.

You have my thanks in advance.

Posted by Ken McCracken · 23 January 2006 05:40 AM

Comments

Ken, I'm gonna follow this one, too. 'Cuz I have the same MEGO response.

J.

Posted by: Jay Tea at January 23, 2006 04:36 AM

Go read the dictionary definitions of "bribe" and "bribery."

Abramoff has bribed people and they have accepted his bribes.

Bribery is wrong. The fact that Congress has made some bribery legal does not make it right. (Roe v. Wade may have made abortion legal, but it did not make it right.)

Posted by: Diane C. Russell at January 23, 2006 06:06 AM

Adding just a bit to what Diane puts it so well, Abramoff and his clients broke the law by bribing members of Congress.

His clients ought to get no more of a pass by claiming they didn't know where their millions of dollars were going than would a mob boss get away with paying someone money to make his problems go away.

Posted by: steve sturm at January 23, 2006 06:32 AM

But Diane, Steve, what did Abramoff DO that was different than most any other lobbyist? Apart from being more flamboyant about it? Hell, that could just be chalked up to self-promotion, marketing, gloryhounding, whatever you want to call it.

Maybe it just is my apathy about Congress as a whole coloring things, but I still don't quite grasp the underlying concrete crime alleged. The contributions were, as I understand it, made legally; it's the motives and the alleged quid pro quo that are being challenged.

J.

Posted by: Jay Tea at January 23, 2006 06:40 AM

Jack Abramoff bought influence, influence that helped his clients. But, more than that, his money helped those politicos he bribed remained in power. Therefore, he created a perfect perpetual motion machine – corruption fed off only a few dollars would have lasted – well – until discovered.

Posted by: JAT0 at January 23, 2006 06:45 AM

Hmmmm.

Abramoff instructed his clients to buy votes in Congress. While you can donate money to the election campaign of a Congressperson whom you think will advance your agenda, to actually buy specific votes on specific programs is bribery, corruption and is extremely illegal.

Posted by: ed at January 23, 2006 07:53 AM

So if you say, "I'm from so-and-so organization we're opposed to this, here's 10 grand," it's legal, but if you say, "I'm from so-and-so, we're opposed to this, we'd like to not see it and we know you can make that happen, here's 10 grand," it's illegal.

Fine line to be sure.

Posted by: jaboobie at January 23, 2006 08:07 AM

So Jay, are you saying that because everyone does it, its not wrong for Abramhoff to do it?

If so, would you agree with a conclusion that abortion must be all right since so many people do it?

Posted by: Diane C. Russell at January 23, 2006 08:11 AM

By giving money to congressman instead of charities he is directly responsible for the death and suffering of billions around the world.

Posted by: B Moe at January 23, 2006 08:17 AM

The public is bored to this point because indictments have yet to be issued. The "every body does it defence is terribly incorrect, but since most Americans are ignorant to the role of lobbists it is easy for the talking heads to claim this. The official role of lobbists is not to have their cronies placed in public office in Guam. it is not to trade hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts to Tom Delay and Bob Ney to have specific favorable legislation inserted into bills. To really understand this whole mess you have to understand the "K Street Project". Until you do you are lost. As I said, wait for the indictments and see how interested the public becomes.

Posted by: thomas at January 23, 2006 08:30 AM

I think you should revise your question. "Wrong," these days, is in the eye of the beholder (more's the pity). The real question is: "What about what Abramoff did rises to the level of 'bribery' (a specific legal term) in comparison with what thousands of other lobbyists do every day that (for the sake of the question) we presume doesn't rise to that level?"

And I would ask another question: Democrats see a critical difference between contributions (allegedly) made by Abramoff's clients at his direction--some of which (allegedly) went to Democrats and which they seem to think are perfectly fine--and contributions that (allegedly) came directly from Abramoff--which (allegedly) went to Republicans only, and are supposedly a marker of a "culture of corruption"?

If the answer to the first question has entirely to do with intentions and motives, isn't the answer to the second question "none"?

Posted by: Bill at January 23, 2006 08:31 AM

jaboobie wrote: [[ Fine line to be sure. ]]

Not really. Consider two scenarios:

1) "Hello, Congressman. We represent fifty thousand of your constituents who want you to support these particular bills and oppose these particular bills. If you do as we ask, we'll each contribute ten dollars to your campaign fund. Here are the fifty thousand names and signatures, all legitimate and verified, and they've been published on the Internet for all the world to see."

2) "Hello, Congressman. I represent a consortium of out-of-state businessmen who want you to support some bills which your constituents oppose, and oppose some other bills which your constituents support, and also use your influence in other covert ways. If you do as we ask, we'll contribute half a million dollars to your campaign fund, after laundering the money to make it look like legitimate campaign donations. We'll also provide you with this nice long list of personal gifts and benefits."

Now do you see the difference?

Posted by: wolfwalker at January 23, 2006 08:39 AM

Wolfwalker,

now you've made me sick to me stomach because I think both scenarios are disgusting.

Posted by: jaboobie at January 23, 2006 09:37 AM

Did the tribes et al give the money after the votes or before? Was it a deal that was structured to pay off after the services had been rendered? If not, I don't see the problem either. Buying access is fine, buying votes is not. As I understand it, Abramoff first queried to see if the match might work (if the congresscritter was on the fence or leaning in a way that supported the lobbyists position) and then supported that with donations to help ensure that the guy with the favorable position stayed in power. I don't think you can leap from there to "The guy voted that way based solely on my contribution, against the best interests of his constituents". The crime of unequal access, if it can be called that, is the exemption of the tribes from the same campaign finance controls that limit other competing interests.

Posted by: Brahma at January 23, 2006 09:54 AM

I think you guys are missing Ken's point. Is it wrong for someone to give money to a candidate? If I want to give a hundred dollars to my preferred candidate, is that illegal? I hope all of you that are jumping on Abramoff for that reason don't contribute any money to any political organizations, because what you are doing is Lobbying. You're telling the Senator, or whomever, that you like the job they're doing, or the way they sound, and they should keep it up. That's not wrong.
Abramoff was convicted of mail fraud and tax evasion, and conspiracy to commit the same. He was not convicted of bribery, or vote-tampering, or anything like that. He was, however, wired for meetings with many political candidates after he was caught, but before he was tried. That's where the whole corruption scandal issue comes from.
If it were illegal to give money to political candidates, George Soros would be in jail. As would most of the rest of us. The fact is it's not illegal, nor should it be, to give money to whoever you want to give it to, even if they are politicians. What's needed are journalists who will investigate and publish the truth about who receives money from whom, and what kind of laws they supported. That way people can make informed decisions about their representatives. Unfortunately, our biased msm has only had one goal in mind. Pursuing Soros' multimillion dollar campaign against George Bush and the Republican party.

Posted by: JohnJ at January 23, 2006 10:27 AM

JohnJ,
You are incorrect he pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials in a deal that requires him to provide evidence about members of Congress.

Just ignoring the conspiracy to bribe as part of a deal to rat out those he bribed does not make the issue go away. Nice attempt to pull a Hannity though, give you credit for that.

Posted by: Thomas at January 23, 2006 10:37 AM

I really don't see what he was any different that anything that a lobbyists do everyday. If he did something wrong but what George Soros and MoveOn.org does is legal, then somebody needs to change the law since there the fine line between legal and illegal is very, very thin. All the examples that everyone has cited just seem the same to me. I don't seem any difference between bribery and lobbying since it all involves giving money to elected officials to vote a certain way.

Posted by: El-ahrairah at January 23, 2006 10:47 AM

Diane, you say "So Jay, are you saying that because everyone does it, its not wrong for Abramhoff to do it?"

You're missing the point -- apparently it's too simple. What I'm looking for (and, I believe, Ken too, but I'd rather not speak for him) is a description of just what "it" is in this case. "Corruption" and "bribery" are words for lazy people; it's easy to oppose them, because nobody can agree on exactly what they mean. I am looking for actual, concrete examples of just what happened that has everyone so bent out of shape.

And no, I'm not trying to minimize it; I am pleading ignorance here, and asking those who are most worked up about it to make it clearer to me.

J.

Posted by: Jay Tea at January 23, 2006 10:52 AM

Based on the (wretchedly incomplete) news reports, it appears that Mr. Abramoff 1) misrepresented his financial condition in writing in a successful attempt to obtain financing for a fleet of gambling boats; and 2) bribed Congressmen, and/or encouraged Indian tribes to bribe Congressmen, to enact specific legislation benefiting those Indian tribes.

The donations to Congressmen appear to be bribes because of the small amount of time between the Congressmen advocating acts that favor certain Indian tribes, and the donations to those Congressmen from those tribes.

I agree with you -- it's INCREDIBLY difficult to figure out what the charges are, based on the news reports. The press sucks, for which reason I have very little confidence in my own explanation, above.

Posted by: Phil Weingart at January 23, 2006 10:56 AM

Jaboobie is correct, wolfwalker is rationalizing. The thing that distinguishes a bribe from a political contribution is quid pro quo. You can give money, and you can say what you oppose and what you support, but you can't ask for or receive specific acts in response to your donation. And the line between those is a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon, not a fine line.

Posted by: Phil Weingart at January 23, 2006 11:02 AM

Phil wrote: [[ wolfwalker is rationalizing. ]]

I have to laugh -- of all the reactions I might have expected to my comment, this is definitely not one of them. My first scenario was simply a slightly cynical restatement of the way that all politicians at all levels fund their campaigns: constituents donate money, and in return they expect the politician to support their views. I'm sure I don't need to repeat the cynic's definition of "an honest politician."

In a democracy like ours, politicians are supposed to take directions from their constituents. Not from anyone else. What Abramoff did was wrong because he interfered with that relationship.

Posted by: wolfwalker at January 23, 2006 11:15 AM

My observation?

(R)'s got 60% of the money, and (D)'s got 60% of the free trips, because (D)'s can be bought... cheaper.

My one sentence answer?

(D)emocrats are now so confident in the partisan press they will send in the 'Coppers' to the same whore-house they themselves frequent confident that that same partisan press won't report that they all have the clap too.

Posted by: DANEgerus at January 23, 2006 11:27 AM

If you want to understand the plea agreement and the details read a newspaper. It is NOT difficult to understand at all.

Among the allegations in the court documents is that Abramoff arranged for payments totaling $50,000 for the wife of an unnamed congressional staffer in return for the staffer's help in killing an Internet gambling measure. The Washington Post has previously reported that Tony Rudy, a former top aide to DeLay, worked with Abramoff to kill such a bill in 2000 before going to work for Abramoff.

One of Abramoff's former associates, Michael Scanlon, a onetime press aide to DeLay, was a secret partner in Abramoff's Indian tribal scheme. Abramoff not only charged the tribes lobbying fees but also urged them to hire Scanlon's public relations firm at hugely inflated prices. Scanlon, in turn, kicked back half of the money to Abramoff, who was thus able to conceal the funds from public disclosure and even from the lobbyist's law firm.

They spread tribal money around and sought legislative favors in return. Abramoff and Scanlon "offered and provided a stream of things of value to public officials in exchange for official acts and influence and agreements to provide official action and influence," a statement of facts attached to the plea agreement said. "These things of value included, but are not limited to, foreign and domestic travel, golf fees, frequent meals, entertainment, election support for candidates for government office, employment for relatives of officials and campaign contributions."

Posted by: thomas at January 23, 2006 11:31 AM

What if I'm the editor of the NY Times or the Weekly Standard, and I mention the possibility of pulling my boilerplate partisan endorsement the incumbant was counting on during the primaries. If I feel the candidate hasn't been sufficiently liberal/conservative, and this next big vote is make it or break it for him/her. Is that a crime?

Posted by: JP at January 23, 2006 12:07 PM

OK, so thomas has answered several questions - at least the second and third paragraph does. I think the information in thomas's fourth paragraph will be thrown out - it's hard to make that stick.
Jay tea still has a good point - reading this post and the comments was a nice way to say bribery is part and parcel of corruption and when the charge "corruption!" is hurled at Congress, that's what it means most of the time. It's still glittering generalities but we know what it is.

And I think that Diane brings up a good point - even though Jaytea's question is simpler, her observation is still part of the answer. It's the answer that's not simple.

Not to drag up more crap, but did anyone see what George Clooney said about Abramoff's name? That was so low brow (Who would name their son 'Jack" with the last three letters of their name being "-off?" This comment coming from a man with "Looney" as most of his last name!

Posted by: tblubird at January 23, 2006 12:10 PM

Jay:

Trying again. I think it is right for our elected officials to listen to and represent the best interests of the people who elected them

And wrong for them to give a higher priority to the interests of non-constituents who happen to pay more.

My Congressman won't answer me when I write about my concerns. He's too busy supporting the contrary interests of the non-constituents who give him things of value in exchange for his influence and votes.

I think that's wrong.

Posted by: Diane C. Russell at January 23, 2006 01:26 PM

So far, I think Phil Weingart has come up with the best concise explanation of what was going on here.

It isn't enough to say that money went from indian tribes to congress - money flows to reps and senators all the time in a completely legal way. You need to show why these money flows were wrong.

Jay Tea is right, you can't just say 'bribery' and 'corruption' and expect that to explain what happenend.

Posted by: Ken McCracken at January 23, 2006 02:07 PM

According to moonbat George Clooney, Jack Abramoff's sin was having the first name of "Jack" while having a last name that ends in "off".

BangorDailyNews summarizes: "His kickbacks, deceits and tax evasions already are illegal, and are useful only to signal to the public that something else is going on in this largely secret portion of lawmaking." Unfortunately, the remainder of the article also makes my eyes glaze over.

For further clarification, the Q And O Blog explains that Abramoff directed money to Republicans and Democrats. Which I take to mean that he was a hired fundraiser. A lobbyist. And being a lobbyist is an inherently dangerous career, because somebody will eventually take exception to whatever you're supporting.

And like the Broncos and the Steelers in the 4th quarter, that's about as much as I can take.

Posted by: the paperboy at January 23, 2006 04:17 PM

bribe - money or favor given or promised to a person in a position of trust to influence his judgment or conduct.

Technically, even $1 could qualify as a bribe if the official accepted it on the condition that he would exert his judgment and conduct in favor of the briber. If a politician could be bought for $1, how much easier would it be for $millions! The trick is finding the right threshold and tactics. It's no wonder that politicians are held in so low esteem. Why are people with no moral compass drawn to public office?

Posted by: CCC at January 23, 2006 04:19 PM

CCC, overall I don't think they're moral compassless when they arrive. I think that happens while they are there.

Posted by: Hoodlumman at January 23, 2006 04:25 PM

Of course, most congressfolk were lawyers before they were congressfolk... so my theory may be shot all to hell.

Posted by: Hoodlumman at January 23, 2006 04:26 PM

The root evil in bribery is the lack of principles on the part of the bribed. It is this deficit that makes his vote for sale, and it is this which distinguishes a bribe from a legal contribution.

All lobbyists strive to influence and all donate to politicians. To some people, that makes all lobbyists guilty. To me, it is all innocent activity, and it is the unprincipled politician who is guilty.

So, like you, I guess I don't understand what Abramoff did that was wrong.

Posted by: Dave A. at January 23, 2006 04:26 PM

BTW, it is neither wrong nor illegal (IMHO) for a politician to take a policy position contrary to that of the majority of his constituents.

Posted by: Dave A. at January 23, 2006 04:34 PM

What did jack do wrong? Well for one he got caught and for two he confessed. But as for this being a Republican scandle, well duh, why would he lobby the minority party? he is a lobbiest he will lobby the congressman that can get what he needs, if those people are Republicans and the majority of congress is, than that is how the chips fall. lets not be naive and assume democrates are not involved from a ethical high ground they are the minority party due to lack of ethics.

Posted by: christian at January 23, 2006 06:24 PM

Diane, you again miss my point. There's a world of difference between "wrong" and "illegal." The libertarian streak in me rejoices in that, because I don't want morality legislated. I agree that what he did was probably immoral, but he isn't being called a sinner -- he's being called a criminal.

Phil and Thomas, thank you. Your answers were exactly the sort of thing I was hoping to find. (Now if we could just get a Michael to also chime in, we'll have the Miami Vice actor covered.)

But it still strikes me as a hell of a tough thing to prove, even with his cooperation. No matter how flagrant the quid pro quo might seem, the congresscritter can always say that they earnestly believed in the rightness of their vote, and the money was irrelevant -- and sans something really concrete, that could just be enough of a "reasonable doubt" to work.

Let me restate that I am NOT endorsing this position, or hoping that's how it resolves, merely assessing likely outcomes.

Thanks again, Phil and Thomas.

J.

Posted by: Jay Tea at January 23, 2006 06:45 PM

Follow-up question: How does Abramoff's "transgressions" differ from say... George Soros?

Posted by: CharlieDontSurf at January 23, 2006 10:22 PM

Okay, the conspiracy charge WAS to bribe public officials. And, since he pled guilty, we might not get all the evidence that would have been used against him. Which means that we don't know what it would have taken to get a bribery conviction. He just decided not to fight it. I do agree with Ken and Phil that that kind of thing is hard to prove, but my opinion is still the same. It should not be illegal to give money to politicians, or to anyone else someone wants to give money to. What's needed are journalists willing to investigate and make known who's getting whose money, and what kind of laws they may be passing. This is to ensure that people can make informed decisions, after all, if someone is getting donations, but passing good laws, most people won't mind.

Posted by: JohnJ at January 24, 2006 12:58 AM

Why does this George Soros-Move On connection keep coming up. Is Move On a public official? No, Move On is a PAC.

Posted by: thomas at January 24, 2006 08:00 AM

Yes, Move On is a PAC, a PAC that influences public officials...connect the dots. Move On is a way for Soros to "launder" his contributions which then go on to buy influence.

Posted by: CharlieDontSurf at January 24, 2006 03:57 PM