In his book, he describes how offering jobs to senior Congressional aides allowed him to wield disproportionate influence in Congressional offices. The sweeping lobbying and ethics reforms put in place after his conviction have not fixed much, he said.
“They haven’t addressed the problem,” Abramoff said. “They haven’t cut to the quick, as it were. The reforms that have got to be put in place are reforms that are far more uncomfortable: the ban on donations; the shutting of the revolving door; the cutting out of every gratuity possible, even a glass of water; the term limits; the application of law to [Members of Congress] themselves. None of that is going to be popular up there.”
Marlowe, for one, argues that such steps are unrealistic and possibly unconstitutional.
“Constitutionally, you cannot stop people from contributing, whether those people be lobbyists or non-lobbyists,” he said. However, Marlowe acknowledged that even the American League of Lobbyists has launched a task force to examine the next generation of lobbying reforms, including improved disclosure rules and steps to address the growing role of money in politics.
“What he’s proposing ... is nowhere near realistic,” Marlowe said. “But he is talking about an issue that needs to be pursued.”
As for Abramoff, he argues that the tea party and the Occupy Wall Street movements reflect a public anger that demands Congress to respond.
“I went to prison in part over this,” he said. “And so the question is, will people take the steps that are necessary before things get out of hand in this country ... in the sense that people are just going to give up on our government and give up on our democracy?”
Part of the purpose of “Capitol Punishment,” which tells the story of the scandal from his perspective and with an emphasis on his contrition and his Orthodox Jewish faith, is to set the record straight, he said. Abramoff is $44 million in debt, in part because of restitution to clients he was accused of bilking. His probation — technically a “supervised release” — does not end until December 2013.
“I have the liberty, because I was in that world [and] I was assassinated,” he said. “With that political death came a certain freedom. And I can say what I think happened, and I don’t have to worry about it.”
He added: “If I could un-ring the bell, nobody would un-ring the bell faster than me. But you can’t un-ring the bell. And so I can’t go back.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., walks on Broadway after a Future Forum with young entrepreneurs in the Flatiron District of New York City, April 16, 2015. Reps. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Grace Meng, D-N.Y., also attended.