The Abramoff Effect

Posted: Jan 04, 2006 2:36 PM
The Abramoff Effect

Abramoff Pleads Guilty to 3 Felony Charges

Former high-powered lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty today to three felony charges in a deal with federal prosecutors that helps clear the way for his testimony about members of Congress and congressional staffers in a wide-ranging political corruption investigation.
By William Branigin, Susan Schmidt and James V. Grimaldi
Washington Post Staff Writers

  • This will be the story of 2006.

  • Everyone who watches any flavor of the "Law & Order" or "CSI" franchises knows that prosecutors lean on someone like Abramoff in order to get him to spill the beans about higher-ups.

  • The higher-ups in this instance are elected members of the U.S. House and Senate and their staffs.

  • The prosecutors will likely come from a little-publicized branch of the United States Department of Justice called the Public Integrity Section who are responsible for nailing public officials who have misused their office for personal gain - their own or their friends. And these guys are tough.

  • Everyone in Washington on Tuesday was focused on Ohio Rep. Bob Ney and, of course, Tom DeLay. But the ripples of the Abramoff Effect will splash up on dozens of Representatives and Senators from both parties.

  • Here's why:

  • A standard bit of petty bribery is for lobbyists - perfectly honest lobbyists - to ask a Congressman or Senator for their support for, or opposition to, a bill or some Executive Agency action.

  • A campaign contribution is proffered - not a the exact moment of the request - but in close enough proximity so both parties understand what has been offered and what is expected.

  • The standard defense is:
    A spokesman for Congressman Galen (R-OH) said he was going to ask the Department of Interior to intercede on behalf of that mining company in New Mexico to stop the Japanese Company from dredging for minerals off the coast of Fiji anyway. The $5,000 donation from the Citizens for Fair Undersea Mining PAC to his campaign account was absolutely coincidental.

  • Right.

  • Any out-and-out bribery will be easy enough to prove. The danger is that every donation from every business interest to every Congressman and Senator will be scrutinized for any appearance of a quid pro quo (Latin for "Something for something else" which I looked up for you as my New Year's gift. Now, please do something for me - have someone you know sign up for their free copy of Mullings by clicking here).

  • See how easy this is?

  • You might say that you would have gotten someone to sign up even without my gift, but try to prove that negative, after the fact (post facto).

    Dear Mr. Mullings:

    Enough, already. We get it.

  • A Congressman or Senator (or a staffer) who runs into a lobbyist at a reception may agree to write a letter or support a bill without any mention, nor even any expectation, of a donation. But if a donation shows up on an FEC report shortly after said letter or vote, guess what the media and the opposition party are going to say: Bribery.

  • If this gathers steam - and I fully expect it will - then anyone accused of taking a donation in return for an official act will suffer greatly whether there is any official investigation or not.

  • A Congressman who may have won with 57% of the vote in 2004 (well above the magic 55% which denotes a "safe seat"), may find himself losing six or seven percentage points of support and in a struggle for survival.

  • Districts which might have drawn only token opposition - a local city councilman - may now be contested by a State Senator who shares a large percentage of the same constituency.

  • This is going to get ugly, because Democrats will claim this is another example of the "culture of corruption." Republicans will counter by - as described above - looking for any confluence of donations and votes by Democrats.

  • The Abramoff Effect might well echo through both cloakrooms in both chambers and have a dramatic impact on the elections this November.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: A link to the WashPost piece; the Public Integrity Section's web page; an apropos newspaper masthead; a Mullfoto, and a Catchy Caption of the Day (which I suspect will keep me in hot water with the Mullings Director of Standards & Practices for the rest of the year).