Once upon a time, Washington D.C.’s most notorious lobbyist was an idealistic young Republican trying to deliver the electoral votes from Massachusetts – of all places – to Ronald Reagan’s column.
His success – the first time Massachusetts had voted GOP since Eisenhower – earned Jack Abramoff a place inside the Beltway, where the seeds were sewn for one of the most flaming downfalls in D.C. history.
Earlier this year, at a fundraiser for Utah United at Salt Lake City’s downtown Radisson, Abramoff explained with humor and humanity how he was introduced to corruption in politics, only to be swallowed up and nearly destroyed by it.
Abramoff told Utah United, which aims to coordinate groups in the state working for smaller, more localized government, that he first encountered political corruption in Reagan’s administration, but then, amended his statement: “To say I first ‘encountered corruption’ is like when I first ‘encountered pavement’ in Washington. It’s everywhere.”
But he was baptized into the Beltway swamp when he was only about 25 years old, working to secure votes for the MX missile project.
Abramoff told the fundraiser the story of a Texas Democratic congressman who invited him into his office and promised to deliver 13 votes of the Hispanic caucus for the missile if Abramoff would, in turn, deliver a naval base to Corpus Christi.
“If you do that; I’ll give you the votes,” the congressman allegedly said.
“As a kid, I’m looking at this guy [with disbelief],” Abramoff recalled. “Are you out of your mind? You’ve got the wrong person. You know, you wanted somebody with power and important.”
“He said, ‘Call the White House,'” Abramoff said. “‘Call it now.'”
Abramoff joked that he called up White House Communications Director Pat Buchanan from the congressman’s office: “I figured, maybe Pat’s going to run out back and get a naval base and send it over, I don’t know.”
But word came back to Abramoff through another channel that the Texas Democrat had his base, and the MX missile had its votes.
“I walked out and I thought, What in the world was I just in? Was this a movie or something?” Abramoff recalled.
Soon afterward, the disillusioned Abramoff left D.C. and stayed out until 1994, when a neighbor asked him to join his lobbyist firm to help with the new wave of congressional Republicans that had swept into power during the mid-term elections.
But based on his experience with the MX missile, Abramoff balked at the idea.
“I gotta tell you, I think lobbyists are kind of bloodsuckers, aren’t they?” he asked.
“No, our job is to keep the government off the back of Microsoft,” the lobbyist allegedly responded. “That’s something you conservatives like, right?”
In the video of Abramoff’s speech below, he explains how he accepted the offer and soon built the biggest lobbying firm in all of Washington. He enjoyed the political battles and maneuvering, usually for causes he legitimately believed in, but it became too easy to “cross a line” in D.C., in part because the lines are so “fuzzy,” where black and white turns oft to gray.
“You can be completely contemptible within the law in Washington,” Abramoff confessed.
The full speech, including another 30 minutes not summarized above, can be seen below:
In the span of 10 years, Jack Abramoff became the most powerful lobbyist on Capitol Hill. Congressmen lined up to do his bidding, executives heeded his advice and heads of governments hung on his every word. But scandal brought him down, ultimately casting him into prison.
As the Abramoff name became synonymous with government corruption, the drastic fall from grace was his wake-up call. He now admits he did wrong. He lost sight of the “line,” and he had plenty of time to reflect during his 43-month prison sentence. He has paid the price, and now he is ready and willing to discuss details – as well as his unique insight into the systemic reforms needed to prevent others from falling into “disgrace.”
Now a free man, “Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth about Washington Corruption from America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist,” is Jack Abramoff’s autobiographical exposé unveiling the mysterious and corrupt world of federal politics.
In his book, Abramoff “outs” senators and members of Congress and sets out the details of insider deals previously unknown to most.
But he also sets forth a Capitol Hill reform plan that would rock the fraternal inside-the-Beltway culture.
Published by WND Books, “Capitol Punishment” also reveals that Abramoff is “a smart, funny, charming, clear-eyed narrator who confounds every expectation of the media’s villainous portrait.”
Adds the publisher: “While he is the villain in the black fedora hat to most of the world, this narrative unearths Abramoff, the human being – tortured, troubled, guilt-ridden, broken, sorrowful, penitent. There are lessons in this book for all – a compelling and redemptive story.”