Former U.S. Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, admits he broke the law and deserved to be sent to prison, but he told WND the corrupt political system desperately needs changing and House Speaker John Boehner is part of the problem.
Ney resigned from Congress in 2006 and pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges in connection to the scandal involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff. He subsequently spent 30 months behind bars and is now the author of "Sideswiped: Lessons Learned Courtesy of the Hit Men on Capitol Hill."
He said the thirst for political donations began almost instantly after Republicans won the House in 1994.
"It was very clear we had to keep this revolution going in 1996, this Republican Revolution. We needed money to do it. We had to raise money. You had to get on the telephones, etc., etc., etc.," said Ney, who revealed that focus included government trips, countless receptions and fundraisers, donors getting access to lawmakers and more.
"From Day 1, the way Washington works was the way it worked. Crossing the line, eventually on my part, came a little bit later," he said.
"Crossing the line" in the Abramoff scandal evolved organically, as Ney said he drifted from playing the Washington game to committing crimes to help Abramoff accomplish his clients' goals.
"People were eating and drinking for free on both sides of the aisle. There were times I would have to try to shove Bush White House staffers away from Jack Abramoff's bar to try to get a drink. That's a fact," Ney said. "That morphed into a trip to Scotland. That morphed into doing things, signing things, SunCruz (Florida casino boat scandal). I mean, a guy got shot in a phone booth down there during that SunCruz fiasco. Jack Abramoff lied on his forms. I was part of pressuring (SunCruz founder) Gus Boulis, who was eventually murdered by somebody down there. I was part of pressuring that guy to get out of the boat business, and that's what Jack Abramoff has wanted," Ney said. "I didn't realize the full repercussions, but I should have said, 'Why am I writing this? No, I'm not going to write it. Why are we being offered all the free food we want and my staff's being offered? No, not going to do it.' So I crossed that line, knowingly and stupidly."
Ney's disdain for Boehner is both personal and professional. In his book, Ney contends that when then-House Majority Leader Boehner asked him to drop his 2006 re-election bid while he was under tight federal scrutiny in exchange for assistance in getting Ney's legal bills paid and helping him find new employment at similar compensation. Ney writes that Boehner reneged on those promises, but he said Boehner was far from impressive beyond that personal slight.
"I've known John Boehner for over two-and-a-half decades. I don't hate John Boehner. Was I angry at John Boehner in 2006? You better believe it. I make no bones about that. But John Boehner has always been, and this is my opinion but I think the opinion of many, on the lazy side in the sense that he's a get-along guy. He doesn't like a lot of controversy. He's always enjoyed the golfing. I would have to term it an addiction for John Boehner," Ney said.
"I'm not calling anyone an alcoholic, being a recovering alcoholic, but I've got to tell you John Boehner is a constant drinker of wine. He's been seen with lobbyists for decades on a nightly basis and drinking. I'm not judging him, but I think it's part of the story.
"I didn't just pick on John Boehner in this book. He was part of the whole Abramoff scenario, and it's kind of a complicated scenario within the book," said Ney, who also hit Boehner over his handling of recent fiscal debates in Congress.
"I think part of this whole sequestration and the fiscal cliff is just John Boehner's general attitude, and he has been in the throes of lobbyists and money and giving checks out on the floor of the House as many people on both sides of the aisle have. He has a chance as the speaker of the House to clean this whole mess up. I had an addiction to a substance they are still addicted to today on both sides of the aisle – to campaign contributions," Ney said.
Once a vigorous opponent of publicly financed elections, Ney is now an ardent supporter of the idea. He has no use for the McCain-Feingold approach, which Ney said only made the problem worse because of its loopholes. He said the new laws would need to respect constitutional speech freedoms, but he insisted the status quo is unacceptable.
"I would again say the perfect solution is public financing, if they can find a way to do it ... There are other ways. I even had it in writing. They charge you, both parties. You want to be chairman of a committee? You want to be chairman of appropriations? Half-a-million dollars. You want to be chairman of House Administration, which I chaired, it was $150,000. The leaders can take endless amounts of money. That all needs to be taken away. It needs to be curtailed on the leaders in both parties who can pressure people for votes when whatever group comes in to spend a fortune," Ney said.
The ex-congressman also wants to see restrictions on lawmakers becoming lobbyists after they retire from politics.
"The other thing that can be done is to absolutely stop the complete revolving door. You want to be a member of Congress? You want to be a staffer? You're not going to be a lobbyist. I'm not against lobbyists and advocacy groups. They educate, but this whole access deal has got to be curtailed," Ney said.
During the interview, Ney also said his time in prison helped him break free from his alcohol addiction, and he plans to advocate for prison reforms.