How They Get Away With Abramoff Tactics In Congress

One thing I’ve been fond of saying over the last couple of years is that Jack Abramoff didn’t get in trouble for bribing members of Congress, he got in trouble for being explicit about it. The sort of chicanery that Abramoff engaged in goes on every day of the week in Congress, but they just don’t openly admit that’s what they’re doing. If you don’t believe that, just take a look at the results of this ethics committee probe:

Lobbyists and corporate officials talked bluntly in e-mail exchanges about connections between making generous campaign donations and securing federal funds through members of an important House Appropriations subcommittee, according to not-yet-public documents reviewed by ethics investigators.

In summer 2007, for example, senior executives at a small McLean defense firm tried to figure out which of them would buy a ticket to a wine-tasting fundraiser for Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), a member of the Appropriations subcommittee on defense. At the time, the company sought help from Moran’s office in securing contracts through special earmarks added to the defense bill.

In an e-mail exchange, one senior officer said he didn’t understand why he had to attend the fundraiser when he didn’t even drink wine.

“You don’t have to drink,” Innovative Concepts’ chief technology officer, Andrew Feldstein, shot back in an e-mail. “You just have to pay.”

“LOL,” responded the other officer.

The fundraiser was hosted by the PMA Group, a powerful lobbying firm whose unusual success in obtaining “earmarked” contracts from members of the military subcommittee was a key focus of a recent House ethics investigation.

Moran raked in $91,900 in campaign checks to his personal campaign and leadership PAC that day. He secured an $800,000 earmark for Innovative Concepts in the 2008 defense appropriations bill.

The e-mails were among the documents reviewed by congressional ethics investigators over the past nine months in a wide-ranging earmarks probe. The investigation ended last week when the House ethics committee issued a report exonerating all seven members under scrutiny. The Washington Post gained access to some of those internal records.

…An investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics uncovered dozens of examples of lobbyists and corporate officers expressing their belief that donations would help them. The OCE declined to share or discuss the documents reviewed by The Post. An OCE spokesman said such records would not be made public unless they directly linked donations with lawmakers’ official acts.

Note how this works: These lobbyists and corporate officials fully believed that they had to make campaign donations to get earmarks. Moreover, it turned out that their campaign contributions did in fact lead to earmarks. However, the ethics committee concluded no laws were broken because there was no explicit tit-for-tat.

Put another way, Jack Abramoff walks up to a congressman and says, “I’ll funnel $10,000 in campaign contributions to you in return for your sending $500,000 in taxpayer money to the firm I’m representing.” That’s bribery. That will put you in jail.

But, if lobbyist X walks up to a congressman and says, “I’ll funnel $10,000 in campaign contributions to you — Oh, and the company I’m representing sure could use $500,000 in taxpayer money,”:  that is not illegal. In fact, it’s called “business as usual” in Congress. Yet, didn’t the exact same money change hands?

This is why our Congress is so hopelessly corrupt — because they’ve simply rewritten the rules so that they can legally be bribed into handing out YOUR tax dollars to their campaign contributors.

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