Jack Abramoff, he of the perpetual five o'clock shadow, has a book out on how to end the influence of lobbyists and their clients on our political system.
Abramoff was sentenced to prison in 2006 for mail fraud and conspiracy related to his lobbying, for which he received tens of millions of dollars for work that sometimes was done poorly or not at all. Nonetheless, he headed one of the most effective lobbying organizations in Washington and contributed fortunes to the lawmakers he was hired to influence.
He says he spent hours in prison walking and thinking about how to clean up government and came to some conclusions: Completely eliminate campaign contributions by anyone who lobbies by making it illegal. Also, extend the prohibition to gifts, dining, travel or any other thing of value. Anyone who has held public office should be barred from being employed by anyone over whom that legislator has exercised authority. Choose one: lobbying or public service.
Abramoff goes on to castigate those in Congress who judged him, recalling that many had accepted his money without compunction.
I hope that Abramoff's eyes have been opened to the dark and dastardly ways that he contributed to the prostitution of our political system and that he can use his insider's knowledge to bring down the corrupt campaign financing system that sells government to the highest bidder.
But Abramoff doesn't go far enough. I have long espoused the complete removal of contributions from independent sources to political campaigns. I would make it illegal to contribute anything whatsoever to any candidate and attach a penalty significant enough to deter any consideration of breaking this law. Instead, I would publicly fund elections.
Spare me the cries of "welfare for politicians," the system we have now costs us far more than publicly funding campaigns. I would also limit campaigning to debates sponsored only by groups with a demonstrated interest in public affairs and which would be subject to oversight by the Federal Elections Commission. The networks, which use the public airwaves, would be required to furnish time for broadcasting these debates. Once we have removed the stain of money, government will be returned to the people, since the people will once again be the most important variable in being elected.
Of course, the Supreme Court has held that money equals free speech, a wrongheaded decision since it would follow that more money equals more free speech and undermines the notion of equality and fair competition. However, I don't think the court would go so far as to thwart the will of the people if satisfactory legislation were passed.
Recent Republican debates have drawn criticism for causing the polls to vary wildly and for making it difficult to raise money. In response to that I cry, Hallelujah! Let the people see what happens when ideas compete and some of the failings of the candidates become plain. In this manner people can better choose the candidate deserving of their votes. Just think, no more incessant hyping or mudslinging on television or radio. If the candidate wants to try that in a debate then have at it. People will find it so repulsive as to negate any point the candidate had tried to make.
Abramoff seems offended that the people he bought turned on him. Perhaps there is an element of revenge and pettiness, but that does not make unworthy his prescription on how to avoid such behavior in the future. Some of the most effective work has been done by people who have turned from lives of selfishness and wrongdoing.
This is one of the things the Occupy Wall Street movement is protesting. It's criminal how those with money and influence are able to buy legislation that allows them to unfairly compete with those who don't have those resources.