Political Bribery is Not “Business As Usual”

Submitted by Kevin Cronin on Wed, 02/01/2006 - 23:20.

Ohio Congressman Bob Ney is certainly entitled to have the facts proved before he’s considered guilty, but it’s a disservice to voters to claim the charges against him are “just politics” or “the way things work in DC.”  By asserting that these allegations are “the way things get done,” supporters drag politics and government lower and give disgusted voters more reasons to give up on government.  To really understand the accusations and why the allegations are more than routine, readers need to understand the nature of the charges and the facts at hand.


Charges of bribery, conspiracy or accepting an illegal gratuity are serious charges. The charge is more than just golfing, restaurants and trips on a corporate jet.  Bribery alleges that an individual offered something of value, in exchange for an official act – that there was “a deal.”


  • Offering Things of Value:  The Justice Department’s Alice Fisher, Assistant Attorney General on the case, said the Justice Department will present evidence that lobbyist Abramoff offered gifts to government officials and their relatives that included an all-expenses paid trip to Scotland “to play golf on a world-famous course, tickets and travel to the Super Bowl in Florida, tickets to concerts and other events in Washington, repeated and regular meals at his upscale restaurant and campaign contributions.”


  • A Deal:  Abramoff, and his former partner, Michael Scanlon, have agreed to testify and may be asked to present evidence that gifts were provided “with the intent and often with the understanding that his clients would receive the official action they wanted.”  But that’s only Ambramoff’s side of the deal.  The Justice Department will try to establish “agreements to perform official acts benefiting” the lobbyists, who were paid handsomely, and their clients. 


  • Achieving a Desired Result (Congressional Follow Through):  The Justice Department will try to establish that “[Abramoff’s] actions often produced the official influence that he sought” and establish a deal, an exchange, a quid pro quo.


The Justice Department also has raised charges of conspiracy, without identifying how high the conspiracy reaches, and soliciting or accepting an illegal gratuity. These charges would also demonstrate a high level of corruption and are just as damaging to the nation’s political will.  Regarding the conspiracy, federal law prohibits high-ranking congressional staff from lobbying their former bosses or committee for one year, to prevent the “revolving door” risk of insider dealing.  The conspiracy charge alleges that Abramoff hired committee staff from Congress and conspired with them to lobby their former employers, including the Members of Congress, violating the one year ban.


The illegal gratuity charge, the basis of the conviction of former Congressman Jim Traficant, does not require an agreement or exchange, only that the solicitation or acceptance involved something affecting the Member of Congress and was improper or should have been known to be improper.  It’s not OK for an individual elected to office to receive something of value and simply say they “did nothing in exchange.” Some gifts, under some circumstances, are just plain wrong.  While the news accounts have generally talked about gifts, meals, travel and golf, one of the charges is that lobbyist Ambramoff sought a contract for a client to wire the Capitol to improve cell phone service, a contract which would have to go through the House Administration Committee chaired by Representative Bob Ney. 


Guilty? We’ll have to see, but if proven, this is hardly business as usual.  The claim that it is “only politics” and “the way things get done” drags politics and government one step lower and gives voters one more reason to walk away from voting and political participation, already at dangerously low levels.  Is that the legacy any Member of Congress wants to leave behind? 

Kevin Cronin is a former Capitol Hill staff, who worked for members of the House and Senate, as well as served as an Associate Counsel for one of the oldest Committee of the House of Representatives.

Unfortunately, business as usual is the problem

Very well said, Kevin!

The thing I find amazing in all these cases - including the #2 guy at WalMart being prosecuted - is how petty are the amounts being stolen by such already rich and powerful people (I was going to say "men" except Martha and Leona show its not gender-specific).

These are strange, perverse times.