The AP has an article about emails that have been entered into evidence in the Jack Abramoff proceedings, emails that reveal with enormous clarity the bribery at the center of our political system. The emails show what amounts to bribery, plain and simple – if you don’t vote the way we want you to vote, we’re not going to give you money next time:
When Jack Abramoff’s lobbying team wanted to press Republican leaders for help with a tribal client, they minced no words. The help was deserved because Abramoff’s clients overwhelmingly donated to Republicans.
E-mails that have become important evidence in the Abramoff corruption probe state the lobbyist’s team bluntly discussed with a Republican Party official using large political donations as a way to pressure lawmakers and the administration into securing federal money for the Saginaw Chippewa of Michigan.
That’s interesting to me primarily because I know the Chippewa tribe pretty well. They own the Soaring Eagle casino, which despite their astonishingly incompetent management, has dramatically improved the well being of the tribe. Each tribe member receives around $40,000 a year from the casino, without having to work there or do anything. I bought my house from one of them. And since they have the only legal poker room within 3 hours’ drive, I’ve played there a lot. They hired Abramoff to lobby on their behalf and this is the influence their money bought them:
Abramoff’s team ultimately prevailed in securing federal school building money for the Saginaw, overcoming opposition from a single Republican congressional aide and a federal agency along the way. And the lawmakers who helped get thousands of dollars in fresh donations.
Federal bribery law prohibits public officials from taking actions because of gifts or political donations and bars lobbyists from demanding government action in exchange for donations.
Abramoff’s team repeatedly discussed donations as the reason Republican leaders should intervene for the Saginaw, the e-mails show.
“The tribes that want this (not just ours) are the only guys who take care of the Rs,” Abramoff deputy Todd Boulanger wrote in a June 19, 2002, e-mail to Abramoff and his lobbying team, using “Rs” as shorthand for Republicans.
“We’re going to seriously reconsider our priorities in the current lists I’m drafting right now if our friends don’t weigh in with some juice. If leadership isn’t going to cash in a chit for (easily) our most important project, then they are out of luck from here on out,” he wrote, referring to political donation lists.
Now, two things need to be said about this. First, don’t kid yourselves into thinking that this is just the Republicans; the exact same thing happens with Democrats, only the identity of the person offering the bribe changes (sometimes). Second, this sort of thing is absolutely not an exception to the rule – it’s the rule. It may not be stated quite so blatantly, but this is the essence of our political system. Nothing gets done on principle, it only gets done when money changes hands.
Sure, there are limits on what any one individual or company or interest group can donate, but there are a million ways around those rules. If a company is limited to X amount of dollars, they have all the individuals in management give the maximum individual donations. If they’re maxed out on donations to the politician’s reelection committee or PAC, every politician has a list of organizations they support and every lobbyist knows what they are.
If Congressman X is on the board of a non-profit group and the lobbyist has maxed out what he can give to him, the lobbyist makes sure that a large sum gets donated to that non-profit (where there are no such restrictions on how much one can give). If the Congressman has “downline” politicians he’s bringing up behind him, which has become very popular with term limits – if each person gets 2 terms in Congress, they at least want to have control over who replaces them – then money can be donated to them as well. And those are just a sample of the legal ways to do it; there are lots of illegal ways as well.
This is probably the single most fundamental issue facing our nation. Why does government continue to grow at an astounding rate? Because our leaders are paid enormous sums of money to keep our tax dollars flowing to them. And remember, Abramoff was a relatively small timer. Representing Indian casino interests isn’t exactly the big time for lobbyists. Imagine what the insurance industry, the financial industry, the oil industry is able to do behind closed doors. Our elected officials do not represent us or our interests; they represent the interests of those who pay for the commercials that convince us that they represent our interests.
P.S. Here’s my favorite line in the article:
Abramoff’s spokesman, Andrew Blum, declined comment Tuesday on the e-mails.
Abramoff is in prison and has been completely disgraced. His actions may well bring down Congressmen and Senators. And he still has a spokesman? Talk about your bad part time jobs.