Sunday evening, I was engrossed in writing this blog post and did not watch 60 Minutes. Thankfully, I had my DVR set. The first segment was a rebroadcast of Leslie Stahl's interview with Jack Abramoff.
The opening graphic behind Stahl's introduction was of a book with the title "The Lobbyists Playbook." On it were handwritten words, titles of plays in the playbook, I imagine. They include: gifts, football tickets, theater tickets, vacations, restaurant meals, and private jets. Two additional plays are listed that have to be factored into the discussion regarding Cherny's ethics reform proposal -- campaign contributions and job offers.
I've already mentioned campaign contributions and shown the contradiction between Cherny's proposal/press release and his response to inquiries about the fact that he had taken $1,000.00 from Countrywide during his California Assembly campaign in 2002. I will not expand on it here other than to underscore the connection between lobbyist influence and campaign cash.
The 60 Minutes segment on the STOCK Act, shows that most Members of Congress, even if they are not millionaires prior to taking that office, attain that financial status before or shortly after leaving Congress. I also noted that Cherny's reform proposal to disclose lobbyist meetings is not foolproof. How much do we actually pay attention to what they already DO disclose?
Yet, another way they enrich themselves, which is conspicuously not addressed in Cherny's proposal, is post-Congressional employment.
Public interest and reform groups have long called for closing the “revolving door” between government service and private employment. Although post-employment restrictions date back to 1962, groups consistently argued that the rules too easily allowed former Federal Government employees to lobby professionally for private industries they previously regulated. Congress responded to reformers’ calls by passing the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (“HLOGA”) in 2007 to address revolving door issues....HLOGA extends the time period for most post-employment restrictions and broadens the restrictions’ scope. President Obama one-upped Congressional efforts when, shortly after coming into office, he imposed even tighter post-employment restrictions for Executive Branch appointees.
In the current post-HLOGA/Obama era, organizations and companies seeking to hire former government employees should understand the post-employment restrictions so that they can modify their hiring practices accordingly. Post-employment restrictions limit a former employee’s ability to represent others before Government officials and employees; however, the restrictions do not generally prevent a former public employee from participating in behind-the-scenes lobbying strategy. (emphasis mine)
Post-employment lobbying restrictions differ based on an individual’s former Federal Government position.
- Former Members and Officers of the House of Representatives are: (1) prohibited for one year from representing a foreign government or political party before the Government or advising such a foreign entity about lobbying activity; and (2) prohibited for one year from lobbying Congress.
Abramoff's interview is most compelling.
From the transcript of the interview:
Stahl asked Abramoff, "Can you quantify how much it costs to corrupt a Congressman?"
Abramoff: I was actually thinking of writing a book - "The Idiot's Guide to Buying a Congressman" - as a way to put this all down. First, I think most congressmen don't feel they're being bought. Most congressmen, I think, can in their own mind justify the system.
Abramoff: --rationalize it and by the way we wanted as lobbyists for them to feel that way.
Stahl (narrating): Abramoff would provide freebies and gifts - looking for favors for his clients in return. He'd lavish certain congressmen and senators with access to private jets and junkets to the world's great golf destinations like St. Andrews in Scotland. Free meals at his own upscale Washington restaurant and access to the best tickets to all the area's sporting events; including two skyboxes at Washington Redskins games.
Abramoff: I spent over a million dollars a year on tickets to sporting events and concerts and what not at all the venues.
Stahl: A million dollars?
Abramoff: Ya. Ya.
Stahl: For the best seats?
Abramoff: The best seats. I had two people on my staff whose virtual full-time job was booking tickets. We were Ticketmaster for these guys.
Stahl: And the congressman or senator could take his favorite people from his district to the game--
Abramoff: The congressman or senator uh, could take two dozen of his favorite people from their district.
Stahl: Was all that legal?
Abramoff: We would certainly try to make the activity legal, if we could. At times we didn't care.
Stahl (narrating): But the "best way" to get a congressional office to do his bidding - he says - was to offer a staffer a job that could triple his salary.
Abramoff: When we would become friendly with an office and they were important to us, and the chief of staff was a competent person, I would say or my staff would say to him or her at some point, "You know, when you're done working on the Hill, we'd very much like you to consider coming to work for us." Now the moment I said that to them or any of our staff said that to 'em, that was it. We owned them. And what does that mean? Every request from our office, every request of our clients, everything that we want, they're gonna do. And not only that, they're gonna think of things we can't think of to do. (emphasis mine)
To me, this insight on Abramoff -- in his own words -- is the lesson of history, demonstrating the theory documented in Cialdini's research. Do you need me to repeat the cliché about what happens if you don't LEARN the lessons of history?
If this puts pressure on Andrei Cherny, (AND Kyrsten Sinema and David Schapira) so be it. Politics is about conflict, not a love fest. Granted, all candidates offer a smile and a handshake. But before you cast your vote, before you work your tail off for a candidate, make sure you know how authentic that candidate is. Challenge him or her, especially if the campaign is for the first time the person will represent you in the office he or she now seeks.
Politics are among the most ancient, enduring, and consequential sources of conflict, as they determine how power will be distributed among people, including over life and death, wealth and poverty, independence and obedience. Conflicts concerning these issues have shaped the ways we have interacted as a species over the course of centuries. At their core, as Hannah Arendt wrote, is the conflict that, "from the beginning of our history has determined the very existence of politics: the cause of freedom versus tyranny."
Freedom and tyranny are factors not only in conflicts between minorities and nation states, but in small, everyday conflicts between parents and teenagers, managers and employees, governments and citizens, and wherever power is distributed unequally. If we define political conflicts as those arising out of or challenging an uneven distribution of power, including relational, religious, and cultural power, it is clear that politics happens everywhere.
In this sense, “the personal is political,” yet the political is also personal, due to globalization, the reach and speed of communication, reduced travel barriers, and increasing environmental interdependency. We can even identify an ecology of conflict, in which rapidly evolving international conflicts have the ability to overwhelm safety and security everywhere. Conflicts in Afghanistan, Sudan, Brazil, and East Timor can no longer be ignored, as they touch our lives in increasingly significant ways.
We therefore require improved understanding, not only of the conflict in politics, but the politics in conflict. As our world shrinks and our problems can no longer be solved except internationally, we need ways of revealing, even in seemingly ordinary, interpersonal conflicts, the larger issues that connect us across boundaries, and methods for resolving political conflicts that are sweeping, strategic, interest-based, and transformational.
This election season, there are a few races in Arizona that have as much import and significance as this one. Obviously, the Republican candidate that emerges from the CD9 primary will require as much attention and scrutiny. But I'm content to let them fight it out and will pay attention to him or her at the end of August.
The Congressional districts that are heavily weighted in favor of Republicans or Democrats are also not my primary interest. If those races become intriguing, corporate media will cover them. Otherwise, what difference do they make? By the way, I live in the new CD6. Barring something earth shattering, one of the Republicans, either Ben Quayle or David Schweikert will represent me in DC.