JACK ALLAN ABRAMOFF
You. Don’t. Know. Jack!
For those of a certain age, the name Jack Abramoff conjures memories of lobbying, scandal, and prison. He is the self-styled “ultimate Washington insider,” according to his website, which promotes him as a speaker for hire. From 1994 to 2004 he was a top Republican lobbyist. In 2006 he was convicted of mail fraud, conspiracy, and tax evasion, serving 43 months in prison until December 2010. Twenty-three associates were convicted with him, on charges of corruption or bribery. Two feature films have been made about his life.
After graduation from Brandeis University in 1981, Abramoff became chair of the College Republican National Committee. He changed the direction of the group to a more activist stance, stating, in 1983, “It is not our job to seek peaceful coexistence with the Left; our job is to remove them from power permanently.” His cohorts over the years included a veritable Who’s Who of Republican stars, such as Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Dick Armey, Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, and Bob Ney.
After receiving a law degree from Georgetown University and spending 10 years as a writer in Hollywood, Abramoff became a lobbyist in Seattle, bringing important Republicans into the fold. In 1995, he and his law firm were paid at least $6.7 million by the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands for six years, which manufactured goods labeled “Made in the USA”, but it was not subject to U.S. labor and minimum wage laws. Abramoff then crafted policy that extended exemptions from federal immigration and labor laws to the islands’ industries. He then negotiated with the Marianas for a $1.2 million no-bid contract for “promoting ethics in government” to be awarded to David Lapin, brother of his associate Daniel Lapin. You get the picture.
Abramoff next found himself laundering monies for a Russian energy company, and working to block the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act. Beginning in 2001, he focused his lobbying efforts on Native American tribes and their gambling casinos.
As with many who have spent time “inside,” Abramoff sought to capitalize on that experience. Following his release from prison after serving 43 months of a six-year sentence, he felt compelled to state:
I was involved deeply in a system of bribery – legalized bribery for the most part … [that] still to a large part exists today.
—Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist (2011).
The 300-page memoir is an account of his life in Washington as a lobbyist. In its last chapter, titled “Path to Reform”, Abramoff portrays himself as someone who supports genuine reform and lists a number of proposals to eliminate bribery of government officials, such as barring members of Congress and their aides for life from becoming lobbyists. He has become a critic of the lobbying industry and has appeared on radio and television, redeeming and rebranding himself.
However . . . Abramoff has returned to lobbying since his release from prison, attempting to arrange meetings between then President-elect Donald Trump and foreign leaders. He continues as a registered lobbyist. On June 25, 2020, Abramoff was charged in San Francisco federal court with fraud in connection with a $5 million cryptocurrency deal, agreeing to a negotiated plea of guilty. On July 14, 2020, Abramoff pleaded to charges of conspiracy and violating the Lobbying Disclosure Act and is awaiting sentencing. He faces up to five years in prison for each count.
At the end of his biography on his website, it states:
Abramoff had it all. And then it was gone. In an instant, his world collapsed and Abramoff fell into the abyss, eventually landing in federal prison, his name becoming synonymous with corruption and what’s wrong with our government. The fall from grace changed Jack Abramoff and woke him up. And now, Abramoff is determined to do all he can to rectify the wrong he did and to identify and help end the corruption of the system he so well played. His orations will not only serve as a cautionary tale, but as an historic platform for reform of the system.
Having served time earlier, Abramoff is a repeat offender for similar, nearly identical crimes. At best, his conduct expresses little remorse and must be deemed transient. In fact, the law under which this latest conviction occurred was amended based upon his first conviction. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. In a separate action, the federal Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil charges alleging securities fraud and acting as an unregistered broker of securities. Facing a second loss of freedom, potentially to 2030, the public is not likely to mourn his disappearance.
We need not be thankful that his criminal career has contributed to better public policy regulation of lobbying.