The glossy press kit that accompanies Jack Abramoff’s new confessional book predicts that “there will be little applause inside the Beltway” for the notorious ex-lobbyist’s “harsh, thorough roster of reform imperatives” for Washington, D.C.
That’s turned out to be true, Abramoff himself admits.
In an interview with Roll Call on Tuesday, Abramoff acknowledged that his book, “Capitol Punishment,” has not gone over well on K Street or on Capitol Hill. It hasn’t helped that his promotional tour has included comments that as many as a dozen Members of Congress have told him they participated in insider trading while he was a lobbyist.
“There’s been a lot of grumbling on K Street about my book, and there have been a lot of sniping attacks, both from K Street and from the Hill,” said Abramoff, who became the symbol of everything wrong in Washington when he went to jail in 2006, and who has now set out to reinvent himself as an advocate of good-government reforms.
But even as Abramoff has thrown himself into a public relations campaign featuring back-to-back media interviews, a Twitter feed, a Facebook page and negotiations that may lead to a reality TV show, some argue that Abramoff is still unfairly giving K Street a black eye.
Abramoff “has a lot of nerve coming up with suggestions about what ought to be done,” said Howard Marlowe, president of the American League of Lobbyists. Marlowe has long argued that Abramoff was in no way representative of the lobbying industry and that the system worked because Abramoff went to jail for three-and-a-half years.
But Abramoff’s message is that K Street and Washington remain corrupt, and that drastic reforms are needed to fix the system — helping explain why lobbyists are not exactly embracing him with open arms. At the time of the corruption scandal that led to the convictions of more than a half-dozen federal officials, Abramoff argued that he was being blamed for common behavior on K Street. Asked whether he still believes that, Abramoff said: “Yes, unfortunately. That’s my thesis. Most of the stuff I did was not illegal. I did break the law, and I went over the line. And I did what most don’t do. I don’t think most lobbyists break the law. They don’t need to. What’s legal is the problem.”
By that, Abramoff said, he means the campaign finance system that causes Members of Congress to rely on lobbyists for political contributions. “I think that the main thing that distorts the system is the money and the influence it plays inside the system,” he said.
Abramoff’s prescription: Ban lobbyists from making political contributions; bar all gifts and gratuities, without exception; impose term limits on Members of Congress; force lawmakers to comply with all laws that they enact; and end the revolving door that spins between K Street and Capitol Hill.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.