Jack Abramoff is out of prison and is spilling the beans on how things really work in Washington. In particular, he’s telling everyone how easy it is to essentially buy off legislators and their staffs (which may be just as important) to get them to do whatever is necessary for their clients. Ezra Klein has some excerpts from Abramoff’s interview on 60 minutes:
In the interview, Abramoff gives away some of the tricks of his former trade. The big one? Dangle a job, he told Lesley Stahl. “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.”
This is the revolving door of politics. Staffers and legislators leave and go to work as lobbyists. Legislators get cushy positions on the boards of corporations as a reward for all the favors they did while in office.
He also talked about how they would hide provisions that had a big payoff for corporate clients behind legalese:
Once the key staffers or legislators were bought, the trick was getting clients what they wanted without attracting attention. “So what we did was we crafted language that was so obscure, so confusing, so uninformative, but so precise.” The following line of text, for instance, quietly won Abramoff’s Native American clients a casino license: “Public law 100-89 is amended by striking section 207 (101 stat. 668, 672).”
“Now isn’t that obvious what that means?” chortles Abramoff. “It was perfect. It was perfect.”
He also says, quite correctly, that the “reforms” put in place in response to his downfall have done little to clean up the system, that he could do the same thing today that he did 10 years ago. And he’s right. The same thing is going on right now. And it will continue to go on because the people with the power to change it are the ones that benefit from not changing it.