The End of Legal Bribery: How the Abramoff Case Could Change Washington

By Birnbaum, Jeffrey | The Washington Monthly, June 2006 | Go to article overview

The End of Legal Bribery: How the Abramoff Case Could Change Washington


Birnbaum, Jeffrey, The Washington Monthly


So far, the scandal surrounding disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff has produced some vivid and memorable examples of modern Washington graft--skybox tickets, pricey restaurant meals, golf junkets to Scotland. Yet at the center of the scandal is something more prosaic, and potentially far more explosive: good old-fashioned campaign donations. Deep in the plea agreements won by Justice Department lawyers are admissions by the defendants--Abramoff and his cronies, ex-DeLay aides Tony C. Rudy and Michael Scanlon--that they conspired to use campaign contributions to bribe lawmakers. Even though these gifts were fully disclosed and within prescribed limits, the government said they were criminal, and the defendants agreed. This aspect of the case has received little attention. But it is sending shudders down K Street. If such prosecutions were to become commonplace, the paid persuaders of Washington and their big-money clients would be dealt a body blow. If prosecutors begin to assert as a matter of routine that lobbyist gifts and campaign contributions are a form of bribery, it could open up a whole new front on the decades-old (and largely ineffective) effort to break the nexus of money and politics in the capital.

"More than in the past, the Department of Justice seems to be trying very hard to tie campaign contributions to legislative acts by members of Congress and to draw the inference that there's a criminal connection between the two," says Robert K. Kelner, chairman of the election law and political law practice at Covington & Burling. "If they succeed then I think it will change the standard advice that lawyers will give their clients about political contributions and also change common practices on Capitol Hill." Stanley Brand, a noted criminal defense attorney at the Brand Law Group in Washington, agrees. "The department is inching toward making campaign contributions the central thing of value when they charge a bribe," says Brand. "I don't know if they'll get all the way there. But it would be an eight on the Richter scale for the campaign finance system if they do. Every PAC and interest group would have to ask itself if its donation is going to be grist for a prosecution."

The earthquake would certainly upset Washington, but it would probably delight almost everyone else. For decades, opinion polls have shown that voters think their politicians are bought and sold by the rich and connected. But these same voters have also seen any number of campaign finance "reforms" put in place, only to watch the system become evermore driven by dollars.

Unlike overhaul efforts in the past, though, which have relied on politicians cleaning up the very system that keeps them in power, the Justice Department's Abramoff case opens up the possibility of genuine change. Imagine, for instance, if the oil companies and their executives could no longer link their campaign contributions to their interests in energy legislation. Or if trial lawyers couldn't do the same with tort reform legislation. Robbed of much of their ability to bend the power structure with donations and other gifts, these industries would have less reason to give at all. They'd be forced instead to rely on the persuasiveness of their arguments rather than the power of their pocketbooks.

Legalized bribery

Campaign finance laws are built on a legal fiction. To wit: Electoral donations are considered within the law even though they are actually bribes at root. Think of them as "legalized bribery." Through bundled contributions and PAC giving, industries, labor unions, and interest groups of all stripes try to persuade lawmakers to vote their way on the issues they care most about. Donors do not express their desire just that way. They use euphemisms like "buying access" to wink and nod their way toward the same thought. But the truth is the truth. Interests give money to buy votes. Unfortunately for those interests, lawmakers receive funds from so many sources, and also sometimes make their legislative decisions based on factors that have nothing to do with money, that the contributions do not always produce the result they desire. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The End of Legal Bribery: How the Abramoff Case Could Change Washington
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.