9 February 2012
Jack Abramoff is set to be the new trick among Washington opinion setters. The rogue turned goodness-champion has been given a platform for his advocacy. Often referred to as a disgraced Republican lobbyist, who made his name buying influence in Congress, he was imprisoned for three years on corruption charges and conspiring to defraud Indian tribes of more than $20 million. He ‘brought down’ more than ten prominent politicians when he fell from grace. However, something in the fundamentalism of the United States seems to have afforded him redemption and a market for his book “Capitol Punishment – The Hard Truth about Washington Corruption from America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist”.
Ironically Abramoff may well have a niche exploiting the characteristics that the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movement have in common. Though poles apart both movements get traction from their condemnation of the influence money buys in Washington. They advocate changes to a system that, they contend, enables only those with influence to benefit from government. Abramoff of course is an expert in that space!
Even the Obama reelection campaign has abandoned the high ground, swallowed its principles, and adopted the super PAC system to raise funds. Playing to more restrictive rules than the opposition is a loser’s game. The democracy which the US promotes around the world is collapsing under the weight of the opportunism it tolerates at home. Support for the occupy movement indicates the discontent of many who feel that government is ‘fixed’, that politicians are as untrustworthy as the board of Fifa.
Abramoff gained notoriety through the golf trips he organised and the boxes he arranged at major sporting events to provide opportunities to network with decision makers. He speaks eloquently of the corrupting purpose of such arrangements. (The declarations of gifts recently disclosed by several State Services chief executives suggests a naivety about why they were invited to major sporting events!)
Now Abramoff who specialised in corrupting politicians is emerging on the international stage a ”watchdog blogger”. If the message in his book reflects a genuine change of heart, he will be putting his skills to work lobbying for change in the dark art of lobbying.
Some of the fallout may be an appreciation in New Zealand of the need to put into place the Principles for Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying. To date, there has been no acknowledgement here of the craft of lobbying, no interest in imposing controls, and no political appetite to conform to the rules that OECD expects of all its member states.