Another one is to close the door between public servants and the lobbying industry. The people lobbying firms hire usually come from Capitol Hill [e.g. staffers to congressmen]. I used to hire people prospectively, offering them a job whenever they could take it up – in a year or so. I noticed that what would happen was that these people would start acting like they were working for me [even though they were still employed by congressmen].
The only way to resolve this is to prevent staffers from actually getting the job for a few years. I have other proposals, but I think these are the kinds of reforms that are likely to obtain support on both the left and the right, and until something is supported by both the left and the right, it’s not going to pass.
What’s the difference between a lobbyist trying to influence a congressman’s vote through money and a Super PAC, for example, doing the same?
There’s no difference. They can give as much money as they want as long as they’re not asking for something in return.
Isn’t it un-American, though, to restrict free speech? Under your proposed reforms, someone who donated a million dollars to a congressman’s reelection campaign would not be able to discuss politics with him at a private dinner. His table talk would have to be restricted to family, friends, and the weather.
It’s completely fair and completely American to say that if you want to have the right to do some things, you have to give up the right to do other things. For example, if you want security clearance in America, you have to give up the right to free speech.
Nobody’s forcing you to lobby the federal government. If you make that choice, it’s 100 percent fantastic. You just can’t do everything else you wanted to do. It’s not only not un-American, it’s very American and it’s very necessary because right now Americans feel strongly that the system is rigged against them. And one of the ways in which it’s rigged – and I know this firsthand having been on that side of it – is that people with unlimited resources, such as I had, can in essence get anything they want out of Congress.
You told “60 Minutes” in 2011 that you believed, as a lobbyist, that you were smarter than Congress – that no matter what reform bill Congress might pass, you would find a way around it. You are currently a reformer yourself. What makes you think lobbyists won’t find a way around your reforms?
Every human law will contain a loophole that someone will find eventually. So it’s not the kind of thing that’s going to get solved with one set of laws. It’s a constant process. But the changes that we propose were born from me contemplating, “What are the kind of things that I would really have a tough time getting around if I were still a lobbyist?”
So while I don’t for a minute presume that these rules are going to last forever, they’ll do a lot of good and will change a lot of things for a while.
An acquaintance of yours claims you can “sweet talk a dog off a meat truck.” What would you say to someone who doubted your sincerity and claimed all your reform talk is disingenuous? Someone who argued that Jack Abramoff is all about Jack Abramoff and is promoting reform today because that’s the only way he can get back in the spotlight and the center of things?
That kind of comment frankly almost doesn’t merit a response. It’s so ridiculous. I think, first of all, people need to judge me by what I do, not by what they think is in my heart. Unless they’re HaKadosh Baruch Hu, they don’t know what’s in my heart.
And I’m not asking people to believe me. I’m not asking for anything out of this. I’m just saying what needs to be done. If they doubt my story in my book – which is told against my own interest – or if they doubt these things are going on, then they’re either naïve or part of the system.