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Convicted felon to speak at NCSL event, as ALEC mole returns to hype his campaign

Thursday, Jul 26, 2012

* The National Conference of State Legislatures is holding its big annual meeting in Chicago next month. One of the featured speakers on the group’s home page is none other than convicted felon and former bigtime DC lobbyist Jack Abramoff. From the NCSL website

Thursday, 2:15 to 3:30 p.m. at MPW W183b, Level 1

Term limits, no revolving door, no gifts. These reforms are touted by America’s best-known lobbyist/felon, Jack Abramoff. He will defend his ideas in front of a panel of experienced legislators who will talk about ethics reforms in their states and challenge Abramoff on what makes sense.

Apparently Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan weren’t available to speak to the NCSL gathering because they’re still in prison.

* Abramoff spent over three years in federal prison after being convicted of mail fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion. He’s been promoting his new book “Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist.” He was on “60 Minutes” not long ago and said that one reform he’d like to see is a complete prohibition on congressional staff and congresscritters from ever becoming lobbyists.

* Abramoff addressed the Kentucky legislature earlier this year and outlined some reforms he’d like to see

* There is a connection between money and politics. Any gift, no matter how small, is a form of bribery.

* Public officials should not be allowed to accept any gifts, including campaign contributions, from lobbyists or their clients or anyone seeking government awards.

* Politicians are human and humans are grateful to people who do nice things for them. This is how lobbyists gain access.

* Terms limits are necessary for lawmakers and their aides to curb a culture of arrogance.

* There should be a lifetime ban on public officials becoming lobbyists–no revolving door.

* Everything about gambling and gaming is political. Stay away from it, he warns. “Beware of the power of money in that industry.”
And remember that a public servant works for the public, not for lobbyists.

* But as former Washington Post reporter R. Jeffrey Smith wrote, Abramoff remains defiant about his own actions in his new book

When it comes to his own role, Abramoff leaves out some embarrassing details, making a reader suspect that there is still more to tell. And his sensible yet improbable prescriptions — which Abramoff says occurred to him while he was doing time at a minimum-security federal prison in Cumberland — are undercut by the pride with which he recounts his lobbying victories. We are left with an odd mixture of candid revelation, defiant celebration and score-settling, all stuck to a postscript of avowed remorse. […]

He dismisses his numerous critics by claiming that they were engaged in “a bloodbath of slander” or bent on the destruction of his clients. He slams The Washington Post in particular for its “vitriolic attacks.” He said the paper was “thrilled to have another angle of attack” when it published a 2004 article by me about Abramoff’s diversion of funds from an avowed sports charity to pet political causes, a short-lived religious school for his kids and an overseas golf trip. […]

For all of its interesting play-by-play — marred in part by numbing accounts of his golf games with clients — the book skims the surface of Abramoff’s psyche. One explanation for his devotion to such hard-edged lobbying is that a habitual rule-breaker will always gravitate toward a profession where ethical norms are few and enforcement is largely missing. But there are hints of other compulsions, including a desire to outperform lobbyists with more cultivated lifestyles. (He writes with relish that his clients and tactics left the partners at Preston Gates squirming “at their wine and brie parties.”)

Even after a few years in prison, Abramoff appears unconvinced that he should be subject to the same rules as others. At one point behind bars, he writes, he violated a rule against circumventing the prison mail system by passing a note to visitors, in hopes of getting a Torah scroll from a local rabbi that he could use to organize a communal reading in prison. Abramoff writes in frustration that the “rabbi ratted me out” and says it was “a badge of honor” to endure another month in prison for having tried to obtain the scroll. He decries the prison’s punishment as “harassment.”

One of the book’s unintended themes is thus that redemption is particularly elusive for those who think they can lobby to get everything they want.

Maybe this wasn’t the best panel choice. We’ll see. Are you going to the conference? What are you planning to do?

* Meanwhile, the ALEC “mole” is back

[Wednesday] is the first day of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) annual meeting. State legislators from around the country will be attending, as will representatives from corporations looking to pitch model legislation.

There will also be spies.

Activists from several progressive groups will sneak into the Salt Lake City conference, (at least, they’ll try), in hopes of capturing some of ALEC’s model legislation. They will be especially motivated now that mass outrage over Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, an ALEC-modeled statute which many presumed would form the basis of George Zimmerman’s legal defense for shooting Trayvon Martin, has lofted ALEC’s profile.

But long before ALEC watching became its own cottage industry, there was Mark Pocan—a Wisconsin state assemblyman who spied on ALEC for more than a decade and frustrated its attempts to advance policy in the Badger State. […]

But the conferences are of dwindling use to a known quantity like Pocan. While his fellow ALEC-affiliated never tried to obstruct him, ALEC’s staff and its sponsors are a different matter. Corporate representatives ensure that he is never invited to the private dinners and sessions where they do some of their choicest lobbying. “That’s where they really wine and dine you,” he said. At last summer’s summit, “I was probably the loneliest guy in New Orleans.”

The only private event Pocan ever made it to was a cigar party. Sponsored by several corporations, it literally consisted of prim servers proffering cigars to legislators on silver platters. Within five minutes of Pocan’s getting there, an ALEC staffer hurried up to him, asked for his invitation, and, after he produced it, brusquely asked him to leave.

* Background

More than a decade ago, Wisconsin state Rep. Mark Pocan began agitating to expose the American Legislative Exchange Council’s behind-the-scenes manipulation of the legislative process in Wisconsin and other states on behalf of multinational corporations. It was a lonely fight at first. Republicans were enthusiastic about ALEC and most Democrats did not have the courage to take on powerful corporations and the lobbying and campaign contribution networks they had developed.

But Pocan, a Madison Democrat who has represented the 78th Assembly District since 1998, persisted, attending ALEC meetings and writing groundbreaking exposes for The Progressive on how the right-wing group crafts “model legislation” that benefits the most powerful corporations in the world — while undermining protections for workers, consumers and the environment. When the Center for Media and Democracy and The Nation magazine developed the “ALEC Exposed” project to reveal the full extent of the secretive group’s manipulation of the legislative process, Pocan lent his experience and insight to the work of naming and shaming corporations that fund ALEC.

As a result, responsible corporations are fleeing ALEC’s membership rolls. Some 25 companies have announced they are no longer associated with ALEC — including, most recently, MillerCoors, Best Buy, CVS, Hewlett-Packard and John Deere & Co. They join Johnson & Johnson, Dell, Kraft, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Wendy’s, Walmart and Mars. Four nonprofits, including the Gates Foundation, have also ended their involvement in ALEC activities or initiatives.

But Pocan is not satisfied just with the reduction in ALEC’s ranks. The legislator, who is one of several contenders for the open 2nd District congressional seat, is promoting an “ALEC Accountability Act,” which would require the shadowy group to register as a lobbyist in Wisconsin and report the funding sources for the “scholarships” it provides conservative legislators.

* Pocan is running for Congress, and he’s hyping his visit to the media. From a press release…

**Press Advisory**
Pocan At 2nd Day of ALEC Conference
National Coalition Shedding Light on Illegal, Non-Registered Lobby Group

SALT LAKE CITY – State Representative Mark Pocan will attend his second day at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Conference in Salt Lake City on Thursday, July 26th. ALEC wines and dines state legislators nationwide in an attempt to lobby for model corporate-sponsored, special interest-inspired legislation. Over the past few years, public awareness of troubling legislation promoted by ALEC has caused 28 corporations and over 50 legislators to leave the organization. In 2012, Pocan introduced the ALEC Accountability Act, which would require ALEC to register as a lobbying organization and own up to its illegal practices.

Is anybody out there at the ALEC conference this week?

- Posted by Rich Miller        


16 Comments
  1. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Jul 26, 12 @ 9:36 am:

    ===Apparently Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan weren’t available to speak to the NCSL gathering because they’re still in prison.===

    Gee, thanks Rich! Why open comments, who is going to top THAT one?

    Line of the Day. Well Done.


  2. - Quinn T. Sential - Thursday, Jul 26, 12 @ 9:54 am:

    Given the recent temporary repreive I think Bill Cellini is still available if they would like to expand the presentation to a panel discussion.

    Nothing like local knowledge, and I believe he would qualify as a Subject Matter Expert.


  3. - dang - Thursday, Jul 26, 12 @ 10:04 am:

    Abramoff, while really a sketchy person, does highlight some reforms that would be helpful. Agree with most of them.


  4. - Regular Reader - Thursday, Jul 26, 12 @ 10:22 am:

    I stopped by ALEC this week for a bit. Bellock is being recognized, and I think there’s only 6-7 Illinois lawmakers here.


  5. - langhorne - Thursday, Jul 26, 12 @ 10:49 am:

    i am retired, so not going to ncsl. too expensive to go on my own. there should be a good number of staff there, since they are needed as volunteers.

    abramoff is a good choice as a presenter. his ideas should get the discussion going. no one is as zealous as a convert (also trying to sell books)


  6. - Shore - Thursday, Jul 26, 12 @ 10:50 am:

    Abramoff was disgraced and making kosher pizza for $10 an hour in suburban dc until his latest book tour. This is a guy with no other prospects in life blowing stuff out his end because it’s more fun than spending friday nights asking 15 year olds if you want it extra large and with any sides. If you believe stuff he has to say, you’re nuts.

    Alec has been around a long time doing what they’re doing without much national outrage-which had generally seemed to find most other groups like that. Did they get new leadership prompting this higher visibility or was this just something that blew up?


  7. - Crime Fighter - Thursday, Jul 26, 12 @ 11:06 am:

    With major ship-jumping by policy makers to right-wing corporate cronyism here in Il, its nice to see an occasional pro-democracy convert like flawed Abramoff.


  8. - Michelle Flaherty - Thursday, Jul 26, 12 @ 11:17 am:

    Interesting lineup (pun intended) for the Abramoff presentation.

    Term limits, no revolving door, no gifts. These reforms are touted by America’s best-known lobbyist/felon, Jack Abramoff. He will defend his ideas in front of a panel of experienced legislators who will talk about ethics reforms in their states and challenge Abramoff on what makes sense.

    Moderator: Gene Rose, Marmillion + Co., Colorado
    Speaker: Jack Abramoff, former lobbyist, author and radio host
    Panelists: Representative Rosie M. Berger, Wyoming
    Steve Rauschenberger, former Illinois legislator, Rauschenberger Partners, LLC, Illinois
    Senate President David L. Williams, Kentucky


  9. - wordslinger - Thursday, Jul 26, 12 @ 11:17 am:

    Abramoff is just giving goo-goos the boilerplate they want to hear to flog his book and collect some lecture fees.

    Prosecuting venal fixers is a good way to cut down on corruption. He’s just bitter that a lot of his pals (Ralph Reed, Dick Armey) are still playing the game for big money.


  10. - amalia - Thursday, Jul 26, 12 @ 11:18 am:

    Abramoff mentioned with Torah scroll somehow seems so wrong.


  11. - Aaron - Thursday, Jul 26, 12 @ 12:20 pm:

    If anyone hasn’t seen Alex Gibney’s documentary on the Jack Abramoff scandal, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, I’d urge you to check it out. It’s a well made expose on Abramoff’s web of “lobbying.”


  12. - NIref - Thursday, Jul 26, 12 @ 12:42 pm:

    Moral of the Abramoff story: Bribe politicians with other peoples money, vacation at club Fed, write a book, do lot’s of pressers, and profit.

    Good to know there is hope for Ryan and Blago after they get out.


  13. - Thoughts... - Thursday, Jul 26, 12 @ 12:48 pm:

    Abramoff is an interesting creature. I saw that 60 minutes piece and he came off as more than a little disingenuous, at least to me. It’s just a little too close to the redemption narrative and he just doesn’t seem to play the role well.

    As for his suggestions, I don’t really agree with term limits. I lived in a state with them and the legislature there is a joke. New Speaker and Senate Pres. literally every two years, a woeful lack of institutional knowledge, and it’s filled with folks who either bought seats or are using it as a stepping stone.

    No Congressman or staff should ever be allowed to lobby? In just about every professional setting, one’s position is predicated on one’s experience. Denying these folks the right to use their professional experience entirely doesn’t seem quite right. Further, it would deny many (ok, not the members) the opportunity to advance themselves financially. To me, it doesn’t seem fair that choosing public service for any period of time should consign you to the (relatively) lower income brackets for the rest of your life.

    That said, I’m fine with gift bans, contribution limits (for all, including corporations) and copious amounts of sunshine.


  14. - hisgirlfriday - Thursday, Jul 26, 12 @ 4:11 pm:

    Really enjoyed the documentary (occasionally streaming on Netflix) called “Casino Jack and the United States of Money.”

    That film really laid bare the gross abuses of public trust involved in the DC GOP’s K Street Project, of which Abramoff was just one piece.

    What I didn’t understand after watching that movie is why if Abramoff is a pariah that people like Ralph Reed and Grover Norquists are treated as movement conservatives in good standing. Because that movie really made it seem that they were up to their eyeballs in Abramoff’s misdeeds with Ralph Reed using right-wing Christian groups to mobilize opposition to gambling necessitating the hiring of lobbyists like Abramoff to represent Indian tribes wanting to get into gambling and Grover Norquist helped launder the money that was being raked in via these lobbyist contracts through his political non-profit organizations.


  15. - amalia - Friday, Jul 27, 12 @ 8:06 am:

    have not seen the doc, but your point about only one pariah is a very good one.


  16. - wordslinger - Friday, Jul 27, 12 @ 9:11 am:

    Hisgirlfriday, I think that’s why Abramoff is so honked. He did the time while his pals are still making money and getting invites to nice parties.

    The sinister, vulgar types like Reed and Norquist still draw a lot of water.


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