Jack Abramoff: Of course campaign contributions are bribes

I’m a little startled that the newest blogger for Atlantic.com (Atlantic Monthly Magazine) is Jack Abramoff, the corruption-selling lobbyist, now out of prison. But, from experience, he knows some things the rest of us can mostly only speculate about and if he’s willing to level, I’m willing to read. He’s off to a good start with his first post in which he says flatly that campaign contributions and other gifts to members of Congress are intended to be bribes and function as bribes although, according to Abramoff, both the giver and receiver denies in their own minds that this is so. Writes Abramoff:

“During the years I was lobbying, I purveyed millions of my own and clients’ dollars to congressmen, especially at … decisive moments. I never contemplated that these payments were really just bribes, but they were. Like most dissembling Washington hacks, I viewed these payments as legitimate political contributions, expressions of my admiration of and fealty to the venerable statesman I needed to influence.

“Outside our capital city (and its ever-prosperous contiguous counties), the campaign contributions of special interests are rightly seen as nothing but bribes. The purposeful dissonance of the political class enables congressmen to accept donations and solemnly recite their real oath of office: My vote is not for sale for a mere contribution. They are wrong. Their votes are very much for sale, only they don’t wish to admit it. The reason they don’t feel they are being bought is that the interaction seems so normal. In fact, were they not public servants, it would be very normal.

“In polite society, we want to create indebtedness and gratitude. These are the sensations that build great civilizations. When I do something nice for you, unless you are a jerk, you feel some gratitude and try, in some way, to reciprocate. One kindness breeds another. That’s what we should all desire.

“The human soul does not permit us to leave our debts unpaid, and gratitude is the minimal sensation of repayment a normal person can provide. This is all fine for normal society, but when the recipient of kindness and administrator of gratitude is a public servant, the otherwise positive relationship dynamic becomes negative and venal.

“When a public servant has a debt to someone seeking a favor from the government, the foundation of our government is at risk. Each time a lobbyist or special interest makes a political contribution to a public servant, a debt is created. Lobbyists are very adept at collecting these debts. Unfortunately, the true debtor on these obligations is the American people. In a very real way, congressmen who take contributions from lobbyists and special interests are selling our nation to repay their debts of gratitude. That is the price of their votes and offices — and it must stop.”

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Ross Williams on 07/24/2012 - 02:48 pm.

    Same game, different day

    Perhaps my cynicism is too great. But I think this is part of a new strategy by those with money. Now that they can spend unlimited amounts outside the candidates’ campaigns, its in their interest to limit the ability of candidates to fund their own efforts. If you don’t have a superpac backing you, you aren’t a serious candidate. Just ask Buddy Roemer.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/24/2012 - 03:21 pm.

    The fool-proof solution

    Ths SCOTUS has ruled that people have the right to use their money to promote their ideas as a form of free speech, and the whining from leftists withstanding, they’re right.

    But that doesn’t mean we are without recourse.

    If we really want to limit the control money has over our politicians, all we have to do is limit the authority over our lives we grant government. They’re selling a product we give them to sell.

    Smaller government = Less corruption & more freedom.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/25/2012 - 08:13 am.

      That’s right, all of our troubles will be over if we shut down government and turn it over to the corporations and the wealthy. History is replete with examples of them doing their darnedest for the common folk.

    • Submitted by Lance Groth on 07/25/2012 - 05:47 pm.

      Funny man

      Mr. Swift, I do believe your wit is under-appreciated on this site. You are, it seems, a master of irony.

      With a wink and a nod, Mr. Swift reminds us that pure capitalism operating sans government is called “the Mafia”. No corruption there. None at all.

  3. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 07/25/2012 - 07:36 am.

    Even as a kid

    I noticed that something wasn’t right when our local politicians would go to Washington as middleclass folks and retire, or more likely die, as rich men. How do politicians became wealthy from a government job?

    The Clintons had lived in government housing their entire lives until they bought that house in New York so Hillary could run for the senate. Now they’re multimillionaires because of money that people have simply given them.

    And rather than worry about Romney’s wealth, which he earned, we should be focusing on how the Obama’s became multimillionaires overnight with no visible means of support other than the sale of two books that were written by someone else.


    • Submitted by Rachel Weisman on 07/25/2012 - 09:32 am.

      The Clintons

      If you are suggesting that the Clintons have not earned money honestly then say so and prove it. Otherwise it is just typical right wing innuendo. But if you want a good lesson in a middleclass guy getting rich through his government job you can look at at how wrestling coach turned Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert made his millions.
      But really, what you want is a lesson in the legislative insider trading. You can read this

    • Submitted by Lance Groth on 07/25/2012 - 06:04 pm.

      He earned it?

      Romney earned his mega-wealth? How did he do that, anyway? What product, what real thing did he ever produce? Shuffling money around and skimming the cream doesn’t count. Shipping jobs overseas doesn’t count.

      How exactly does one turn an IRA with a theoretical max yearly contribution of $30,000 into $100,000,000, anyway? Legally, I mean.

      Of course, it’s very hard to tell exactly how Romney made what he made, much less how much, since he won’t release more than one year’s tax returns. He must be a very modest man, not wanting to brag about his money making genius, I guess. We do know he paid only 13.9% tax for the one year he has released. Could it be that he paid even less – far less – in earlier years?

      I’m guessing so, and once he’s forced to come clean, it’s that, plus the extent of his overseas accounts, and the details of his world-beating IRA gains, that will sink his campaign. He could alleviate suspicion simply by living up to the example of his father and releasing a decade’s worth of tax returns, but he won’t.

      In my experience, it’s the guilty who fear transparency. Not to fear, the truth will out.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 07/25/2012 - 09:59 am.


    Thank you, Mr. Rovick.

    No one gives a political campaign a substantial amount of money without expecting something in return. “Bribe,” “influence,” “an open door,” all mean essentially the same thing – those that pay big bucks expect their interests to be advanced or protected or both.

    Shrinking government until it can be “drowned in a bathtub” merely to say that shrinking government is the be-all and end-all goal simply guarantees that the government will be unable to be of any service to the citizens who need it, which is the reason for which governments are formed in the first place. The wealthy have always been able to provide for their own welfare, and, I might point out, smaller government does not equal less corrupt government. As even Mr. Swift might know, there are plenty of third world countries with very small governments, lots of “freedom,” and ample corruption to go with it.

  5. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 07/25/2012 - 11:34 am.

    Big money demands a big return

    Big money is not given without a big expectation. Essentially the SCOTUS turned our one voter, one vote system, into a one voter, two vote system, for some. Big money gets to vote twice and you know which vote carries the most impact. You can thank big money for 365/24/7 campaigning with no time to do the business of the people they were elected to serve. The biggest corruptor of all is money and we are seeing the impact of it across the political spectrum. Thank you SCOTUS for taking what little say John Q. Public had in the political process and turning it into no say at all. Corruption abounds throughout the system.

  6. Submitted by Rich Crose on 07/25/2012 - 11:46 am.

    Jack’s right

    Giving money to a politician is like giving vodka to an alcoholic. They keep needing more and more to satisfy their addiction.

    We need to implement a 12 step program for politicians.

  7. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 07/25/2012 - 10:56 pm.

    Father of the Bribe is taking the public for another ride…

    “I never contemplated that those payments were really just bribes…”

    The man in the big black hat is one cool cat…

    Such uncontemplative innocence is hard to believe, yes sir.

Leave a Reply