Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff knows a thing or two about political corruption and lobbying. And in his new book "Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America's Most Notorious Lobbyist," he has a few ideas on how to fix the system:
Ban donations from lobbyists and those who receive public funds. "Instead of limiting the size of every American's political contribution, we need to entirely eliminate any contribution by those lobbying the government, participating in a federal contract, or otherwise financially benefiting from public funds. If you get money or perks from elected officials - be ‘you' a company, a union, an association, a law firm, or an individual - you shouldn't be permitted to give them so much as one dollar. It does no good to ban Jack Abramoff from giving $2,000 to Congressman Badenov, but allow the members of his law firm to pick up the slack. If you choose to lobby, if you choose to take money from our nation, if you choose to perform federal contracts, or if you draw your compensation from any entity which does, you need to abstain from giving campaign contributions. It's your choice either way. But you have to choose one, not both."
No gifts. "Not only should lobbyists be banned from contributing to officials' organizations and campaign funds, they should be banned from gift-giving as well. Instead of limiting the amount of money a lobbyist may spend on wining and dining congressional members and staff, eliminate it entirely. No finger food, no snacks, no hot dogs. Nothing. If you are going to lobby the federal government, take from the treasury, work as a contractor, you shouldn't be permitted to give one penny to any elected official or staff, including the executive branch. Remove all temptations. Eradicate even the scent of impropriety."
Stop the revolving door altogether. "Next, the lure of post-public service lobbying employment needs to be eliminated. The revolving door is one of the greatest sources of corruption in government. If you choose to serve in Congress or on a congressional staff, you should be barred for life from working for any company, organization, or association which lobbies the federal government. That may seem harsh - and it is. But there's a reason. Congressmen know better than anyone how to get around a ban on lobbying. They ‘consult.' What's the difference? If you lobby, you officially try to persuade a representative or staff. If you consult, you call the representative to say hello and ask that representative to meet with you new partner at the law firm. You don't lobby. Your partner lobbies. Does anyone believe the representative doesn't get that joke?"
"If you choose public service, choose it to serve the public, not your bank account. When you're done serving, go home. Get a real job. Washington is not a safe place to live."
Term limits. "A representative who stayed in Washington for decades, and was a friend, was worth his weight in gold. But permitting people to rule for decades is a recipe for disaster. Is there really a difference between a permanent Congress and president for life? Representatives should be allowed to serve for three terms of two years, senators for two terms of six years. Then they should get out of town."
No bringing home the bacon. For most representatives, the metric of success is how many federal tax dollars they can bring back home beyond what their district contributes. One need not be a certified public accountant to see how dangerous that is. Many times federal funds are directed to companies, unions, and organizations close to the representative. Furthermore, the so-called ‘horse trading,' which strains the congressional appropriations process, only serves to increase the federal budget…. But what if representatives were barred from proposing, lobbying for, and perhaps even voting on projects in their districts and states? This may sound crazy, but is it any crazier than the system currently destroying our economy?"
Repeal the 17th Amendment. "Less than 100 years ago, U.S. Senators were elected by their state's legislature. They represented the interests of their state in Washington, and provided a nice balance to the directly elected representatives… Repealing the 17th Amendment to the Constitution would restore the election of senators to the state houses, and probably ensure that some of the jokesters who can marshal funds and media will not join the most exclusive club in the world."
Abramoff goes on to say that he received hundreds of letters while in prison, many of them from citizen-activists who helped form the Tea Party. He said he watched as "the world changed and the seeds of uprising took root."
"In the last election, these citizens rose up and threw the bums out, again. But will these new reformers stay the course? Will they enact the kind of real reform noted above? For the sake of our nation, I an only hope they do, before the next man in the black hat emerges."