Monday, January 09, 2006

Bushits' Ten Commandments



By Richard Reeves
Fri Jan 6, 8:13 PM ET

JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- There were politics in my home growing up here. My father was a poor Republican lawyer in an almost totally Democratic world. In those days -- I was 10 years old -- I thought America was an Italian country governed by the Irish. They were all Democrats. We were the only white Protestant Republicans.

There came a day when my brother and I, lying on the floor of our bedroom, the only one in our little apartment, listened to the men in hats who had come to talk to my father about running for the City Commission on a "fusion" ticket of four Democrats and a Republican. Our father was being offered the chance to be a big shot.

He said, "No."

I was devastated. I asked my dad why he did that. "Whoever takes that spot," he said, "will end up in prison." That happened. Another Republican, a good friend of my father's, took the job and did end up behind bars.

Those were the days when politicians saw graft as their due, the same as in Third World countries or some counties in West Virginia. They hobnobbed with gamblers and other bad guys, and they generally made a pretty good living for their families for a time -- and for criminal attorneys after that. Then, over the years, the methods of corruption changed even if the instincts toward it did not.

There are more laws than there used to be, and the movement of money is more complicated than fat envelopes and briefcases. But one thing never changes: In a society where money equals power and vice versa, elected politicians and high government bureaucrats receive relatively little money in comparison to the power they have, which makes many of them easy marks for the devil's hands.

Opportunity and temptation are always there when a salary man has the power to make a big boss or investor rich, or even richer, by changing a comma or a number in a law or a contract involving public works.

So, sometimes there is cash under the table, sometimes campaign contributions, sometimes deferred compensation in the form of jobs, lectures, consultancies or books coming to officials after their retirement. High military position can be as good as elected office in the post-service lucrative years.

We have developed a system bound to corrupt the resentful who see themselves handling the society's toughest work. At lower levels, policemen and minor civil servants with enormous power and small paychecks live in temptation, surrounded by dirty money.

Among politicians, I have watched more than a few friends and acquaintances go off to prison. There are no hard and fast rules for corruption, but I have noticed that many Republicans go wrong because they believe that it is business as usual, un-American to pass up a chance at profit. They do what comes naturally in the private sector, but some of what comes naturally to a speculator is against the law for a public servant.

Democrats I've known have gone wrong because they came to believe they had earned their way into a privileged class, complete with free meals and vacations, life on the fast track. Then comes a day, often when they are first faced with college tuitions for their children, that they realize they can't afford the life of the people asking, begging them for little favors. They step onto the slippery slope of favors and loans and then bribes.

Such stories come and go. The public forgets until the next time.

But the case of Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist stealing money from Indian casinos and other pots of government-subsidized cash and spreading it as campaign contributions to the compliant and weak in high office, may be a next time to be remembered.

This scandal seems to have it all -- greed, comedy, a guy who thought like the Godfather and dozens if not hundreds of public officials -- and we may soon find ourselves asking how our government really functions in a time of easy money and easy excuses.

With luck, we'll be made better by the lessons of the revelations -- at least until the next time.

January 9, 2006
Lobbyist's Work for Publishers of Magazines Under Scrutiny

The press has spilled plenty of ink writing about Jack Abramoff, the powerful Washington lobbyist at the center of an extensive corruption scandal. But little noticed is that among Mr. Abramoff's many clients was the press itself, at least part of it. In 2000, he represented the Magazine Publishers Association, and it turns out that some of the association's money may have been funneled to Mr. Abramoff's political allies.

In documents last week in which Mr. Abramoff pleaded guilty to mail fraud and conspiracy to bribe public officials, he revealed that he and an unidentified Congressional aide worked to stave off an increase in postal rates - a significant benefit for an industry that depends on the postal service.

The plea document said that Mr. Abramoff and the Congressional aide performed "a series of official acts, including assisting in stopping legislation regarding Internet gambling and opposing postal rate increases."

The corruption scandal could involve dozens of members of Congress, political operatives and lobbyists suspected of arranging bribes in exchange for favorable legislation and other benefits.

The magazine association paid at least $1.4 million from 2000 to 2003 to Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, the lobbying firm where Mr. Abramoff was the chief lobbyist.

Howard Rubenstein, the public relations executive who represents the association, said the amount was $1.8 million; a spokeswoman for Preston Gates put the amount at $1.4 million.

The money was part of a broader, $10 million campaign by the association to keep postal rates down, explore reform of the postal system and seek alternate means of delivering magazines.

Mr. Abramoff left the firm at the end of 2000 and the association stopped using Preston Gates in 2003. But, Mr. Rubenstein said, "Jack Abramoff was one of a number of people at Preston Gates who worked on the M.P.A. account."

The postal rate increases were deferred while the association was a client of Mr. Abramoff, but that deferment was short-lived. The rates went up 10 percent in June 2002, costing the magazine industry an additional $200 million a year; they went up again yesterday, for an estimated additional cost of $180 million a year.

It is not clear who did what for whom in terms of staving off the rate increase, but Mr. Rubenstein said that magazine officials were "deeply disturbed by the recent allegations concerning Abramoff's conduct and they are in the process of looking into the nature of his involvement in Preston Gate's work on behalf of M.P.A."

He declined to say whether the Justice Department had interviewed association officials, but said those officials "feel they may be one of the victims and will cooperate fully" with the investigation.

The magazine association made another payment that is under scrutiny.

In 2000, the association made a $25,000 contribution to a nonprofit group called Toward Tradition, an alliance of Jews and evangelical Christians, based on what Mr. Rubenstein called a directive from Preston Gates. People involved in the investigation have said that Mr. Abramoff funneled money through Toward Tradition to the wife of his associate, Tony C. Rudy, a former top aide to Representative Tom Delay, Republican of Texas.

"They had absolutely no knowledge of how that money would be used, and if it turns out that it was used for an improper purpose, the M.P.A. would be, quite frankly, outraged," Mr. Rubenstein said.

Genevieve Woodard, a spokeswoman for Preston Gates, said, "neither the firm nor the M.P.A. knew that Jack was diverting payments to the Congressional staffer's wife."

Postal rates are a central concern to publishers. "We actually spend more on postage than we do on paper," Ann Moore, chairman and chief executive of, said last year at a forum on the subject. "Mail is our single largest line item expense, so this really threatens our business."


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