What Reforms Will Abramoff Spark?

Yesterday, uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff plead guilty to conspiracy, mail fraud, and tax evasion.  Implicated in his nest of graft are a number of elected officials and highly-placed GOP leaders (Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist, among others).  The GOP has spent more than a decade building up the K Street Project and creating a system of revolving doors between government, lobbying, and corporate interests. 

Abramoff was among the lobbyists most closely associated with the K Street Project, which was initiated by his friend Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), now the former House majority leader, once the GOP vaulted to power. It was an aggressive program designed to force corporations and trade associations to hire more GOP-connected lobbyists in what at times became an almost seamless relationship between Capitol Hill lawmakers and some firms that sought to influence them. (WaPo, Jan 4, 2005)

The silver lining to scandals is that they bring an opportunity for change--for example, Enron brought Sarbanes-Oxley, which has done much to clean up Wall Street.  Given this sliver of opportunity, what do you think would clean up Congress?

Discuss.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    The key reform this massive scandal will or should lead to (assuming the Bush appointed Abramoff prosecutor actually gets to the truth...a big "if") is the abolishment of secret software counting votes and the utter travesty of allowing conflicted partisan officials call every shot in the oversight of an election. The Abramoff scandals including Coingate are a giant money laundering operation that bought and paid for the 2004 election heist in Ohio 2004. Any reform springing from the Abramoff atrocity must address the ramshackle, conflicted disaster of our election system.

  • dmrusso (unverified)
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    I agree! Until our election system is fixed Democrats will always be the underdog in certain states and in national elections.

    The biggest "reform" that I hope will come of this will be to have the Dems win back the House and the Senate in '06. We need that for so many reasons.

    I also hope to see Delay in prison as someone's "bitch". :)

  • LT (unverified)
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    Until our election system is fixed Democrats will always be the underdog in certain states and in national elections.

    What exactly does that mean--that Oregonians should be trying to change election practices in Ohio and Florida (how would you feel if people from Ohio and Fla. started telling us we shouldn't control Oregon elections?). Paul Hackett carried 4 counties in one of the "reddest" congressional districts in Ohio--how could that be if the software wouldn't allow it?

    Why talk about this on Blue Oregon blog--what exactly can Oregonians do about elections in other states? What do you folks think of the Carter-Baker election reform ideas?

    I wrote an email to the Marion County Clerk and this is part of the response:

    Since we program our own elections in Marion County, the specter of a malicious code implanted at time of manufacture, that could perform vote switching based on certain criteria after the first few thousand votes is not viable here. The reason is that, when our machines were manufactured, no party or candidate had any idea where their "arrow" would land on the ballot and reader. Oregon's use of a "random alphabet" to determine order of candidates on the ballot, rather than established fixed party positions precludes the manufacturer or anyone else of being able to predictably change a count in their favor by the speculated means described above. Moreover, our tally machines are not connected to the internet, are kept under lock and key, and are subject to logic and accuracy testing multiple times in each election. The likelihood of tally machine manipulation in Marion County is nil.

    Are you really saying that random alphabet, tally machines not connected to the internet, keeping them under lock and key and the abovementioned logic and accuracy testing are not enough because the software companies are so evil?

    Or could all the energy devoted to complaining about election software better be put to having quality candidates contesting all elections, activists who actually know their own county elections officials, and paying close attention to all election procedures?

    If all elections in Oregon are fixed, how did the State Senate go Democratic and why are all statewide officials Democrats except Gordon Smith?

  • Sid Leader (unverified)
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    Y'all see Casino Jack's Thug Life outfit he wore to court?

    The poor boy thinks he's Tony Soprano -- without the house, money or laughs.

    As for reforms, I hear Signatures, his lousy restaurant with the fatty steaks will be closing by the weekend.

    Try Morton's.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)
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    Y'all see Casino Jack's Thug Life outfit he wore to court?

    The poor boy thinks he's Tony Soprano -- without the house, money or laughs.

    As for reforms, I hear Signatures, his lousy restaurant with the fatty steaks will be closing by the weekend.

    Try Morton's.

  • Ed Bickford (unverified)
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    Oh, yeah! He was literally a black hat, right on TV. It must be true, it was on TV!

  • (Show?)

    The Wingnuts are already selling the line that Abramoff bribed everybody on both sides of the aisle.

    Preliminary reports point exclusively to Republicans:

    Here's a site with hundreds of donations listed and <a href=http://www.newsmeat.com/washington_political_donations/Jack_Abramoff.php

    no Dems.

    BTW: Gordon Smith is in this muck up to the armpits of his snowy white Garments. He is on re3cord as having taken thousands from this machine. One wonders how soon he'll follow Denny Hastert and the rest in the scramble to get the danged barn door closed......

    Check it out...........

  • BlueNote (unverified)
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    Abramoff appears to be a scum bag, which is too bad for my profession and for Preston Gates & Ellis which is a pretty good law firm which employs a lot of progressive people. However, before we Dems get too gleeful about all this, I suggest we wait and see what happens next. I would like to say I never met a crooked Dem politician, but as a former resident of Chicago I can't say that. What is the old saying - politics is like making sausage, you don't want to know too many details about the process, you just want to see what the finished product is? I know that concept does not match the high ideals of many of those who post here, but such is life!

  • (Show?)

    Taking off from BlueNote (and with apologies to Ginny), I wonder if this doesn't suggest a cancer within the two-party system. Even for parties out of power, there are huge advantages in incumbancy, congressional rules, and so on. This makes it easier for money to flow in and conceals what's happening behind the scenes. As we've seen over the past decade, the opposition party didn't do such a hot job opposing. I can only imagine that minority parties would be far better watchdogs of the sausage factories than the guys who own them.

  • Boze Noze (unverified)
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    I would slow down before getting too smug about Abramoff. Here is a blog with links showing Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and other prominent D's took heavy $'s from him and the tribes he represented: texasrainmaker

    This is really a story about our federal government being too big and too powerful in general. If it was not so all encompasing, then it would not benefit special interests to throw away so much money bribing congressman.

  • (Show?)

    I concede, BozeNoze.

    No one ever lost a dime underestimating the intelligence of Democratic US senators..........

    I had hoped that the K-Street project that Delay started in the mid to late 90s would have precluded the majority of Dem pigs from access to the trough.

    That was a dumb idea too, because if the shit ever hit the fan, you'd want some Dirty Dems right there beside you.......Wait a minute.......Looks like the Dems mugged themselves again.....Nevermind.

  • (Show?)

    Pat and Boze, while I'm not about to acquit Dems here, I'm also not going to condemn them, either. Taking money from Abramoff's tribal clients doesn't indict the Dems. I'd like to think that if I were a a Dem, I'd be supporting the tribes in their bids to see their sovereign rights honored, too. And until the laws really get changed, receiving money from PACs isn't indecent--it's just part of the sausage factory. (Though many losing candidates are probably proud of how little money they "took.")

  • Boze Noze (unverified)
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    Pat,

    Don't forget former Senator Daschle voting on FAA regulation bills while Ms. Tom Daschle was working as a lobbyist for several airlines...You could fill pages with examples from both sides of the aisle of the revolving door between K street and the Hill.

    I remember watching Independence Day in the theatre and the crowd actually cheering the destruction of the Capitol...this is just one reason why.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)
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    Wrong again, Boze Nose!

    One blogger in Texas living in his step-mommy's basement told Boze Abe Jackoff (his hs nickname) gave money to Dems!

    Nope, not a dime. Not a cent.

    And if you can prove I'm wrong, do it, with a real link to real reporters, not frilly panty-wearing mamas boyz, bring it on, pal.

    Bring. It. On.

  • BlueNote (unverified)
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    Not sure what your point is, but it appears that Democrats took Abramoff money per Washington Post

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/02/AR2005060202158.html

  • (Show?)

    Sid,

    Now we're getting into "distinctions without a difference" territory. The latest spin from the Dems is that Dems didn't get any money from Abramoff personally, but that they got money from the tribes, from his lobbying firm, etcetera.

    As a political point, you may be able to sell this, and I hope that the kids are successful in their spin efforts.

    It's pretty thin gruel right now though. This one will be decided by PR outcomes rather than merit.

  • (Show?)

    Pat, I think there IS a serious distinction--anyway, looks like it from my distant perch. Look, let's say you're representing a district in Oregon, and a tribe from the South wants to give you $50k in your re-election bid. As a good, Native-American-friendly, pro-gambling libertarian, you see no problem, recognizing that their interest probably has to do with gambling, an issue you support. There's nothing different in that description than receiving any money from any PAC. And it's certainly not slimy.

    Now, in scenario two, known sleazeball Jack Abramoff, who is close buddies with Grover, Ralph, and the Hammer, wants to give you a pocket of cash. Your spidey senses rightly go up.

    I'd be leery to start burning Dems at the stake for committing scenario two crimes before I made sure they weren't scenario one politics.

  • (Show?)

    I'll have to rely on your expertise to discern the difference, Jeff.

    Again, I hope that this "difference" is sufficient that "the public" gets it.

    I sure don't.

  • BethP (unverified)
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    What I'm worried about is what's really going on. Sure, scum-bag Abramoff pleaded guilty and is supposed to be spilling some beans. But when you realize that the DOJ prosecutor in the case is a hand-picked B* appointee, appointed during a Congressional recess because Dem. Senators questioned her qualifications, experience, and conflicts of interest, you have to wonder. The prosecutor, Alice Fisher, had never been a prosecutor before and has strong ties to Michael Chertoff and possibly even Delay's defense team. What are the Repressives hiding by controlling this prosecution? It sounds to me that Abramoff is going to give up several sacrificial lambs for appearance sake but the really heavy corruption will be covered up once again.

    For more info on her, go to SourceWatch.org at http://tinyurl.com/8dsc6.

  • (Show?)

    LT,

    What exactly does that mean--that Oregonians should be trying to change election practices in Ohio and Florida?

    Absolutely! If corruption of the process in those states leads to subversion of democracy and the disenfranchisement of the majority as it has in 2000 and 2004, you bet it's our business. Every American citizen has a right to fair and transparent elections in every state. Otherwise we could have a tyrannical, unaccountable, unelected executive take power essentially by a coup in one critical swing state, which, frankly, is what did happen. My freedoms and rights are at stake just as much as someone in Ohio and Florida when this occurs.

    (how would you feel if people from Ohio and Fla. started telling us we shouldn't control Oregon elections?)

    Who said anything about controlling them? I just believe in demanding integrity so that our country can live up to its ideals and our democracy will not become essentially a farce.

    Paul Hackett carried 4 counties in one of the "reddest" congressional districts in Ohio--how could that be if the software wouldn't allow it?

    Many believe he won. His poll numbers indicated as much. Also, the 4 Ohio election reform measure likely passed. They were given a significant odds of passing.

    Why talk about this on Blue Oregon blog--what exactly can Oregonians do about elections in other states?

    Plenty. We at the Oregon Voter Rights Coalition receive many requests about our VBM system and how to foster this system in other states suffering from paperless DRE's. We are hoping to promote our system nationwide but we can not do so as long as proprietary software is used for the counting.

    What do you folks think of the Carter-Baker election reform ideas?

    Baker is a front man for the Carlyle group and deeply compromised by his dispicable conduct in the 2000 vote count. As a result, Carter-Baker is a smokescreen. There is an excellent piece at http://www.carterbakerdissent.com/dissent to help you understand the situation better.

    I wrote an email to the Marion County Clerk and this is part of the response:

    Since we program our own elections in Marion County, the specter of a malicious code implanted at time of manufacture, that could perform vote switching based on certain criteria after the first few thousand votes is not viable here. The reason is that, when our machines were manufactured, no party or candidate had any idea where their "arrow" would land on the ballot and reader. Oregon's use of a "random alphabet" to determine order of candidates on the ballot, rather than established fixed party positions precludes the manufacturer or anyone else of being able to predictably change a count in their favor by the speculated means described above. Moreover, our tally machines are not connected to the internet, are kept under lock and key, and are subject to logic and accuracy testing multiple times in each election. The likelihood of tally machine manipulation in Marion County is nil.

    Are you really saying that random alphabet, tally machines not connected to the internet, keeping them under lock and key and the abovementioned logic and accuracy testing are not enough because the software companies are so evil?

    Marion county is in much better shape than the other counties. They are using 1988 software and are one of the few counties that does their own programming. And Sharon Ricks doesn't let the vendors anywhere near before or during an election. Still, without an audit, it's faith based voting. The majority of counties in Oregon do not do their own programming.

    Or could all the energy devoted to complaining about election software better be put to having quality candidates contesting all elections, activists who actually know their own county elections officials, and paying close attention to all election procedures?

    Those would be good things to have, fer shure. But my energy is going to fixing the thing that matters most, the actual vote counting. I believe we have the majority position -- we did in 2000 and we did in 2004. What's broken is the election system. The media is so severely compromised as a propaganda wing of the Repugnant party that we do not have the 4th estate either -- unlike in the Watergate years. So, essentially, we could run JC and still not win under the current circumstances. Our only hope is a proper election system that actually 'elects' our choices. Otherwise we are completely screwed, because I don't see where we have any other means of preventing this quasi-facsist, one party theocracy from completely taking over. And make no mistake, that is what they plan to do, and are well on their way toward accomplishing.

    If all elections in Oregon are fixed, how did the State Senate go Democratic and why are all statewide officials Democrats except Gordon Smith?

    The way to understand it is that the vote counting is essentially "faith-based". We do not get to see the software that counts the votes. Period. Even the SOS can't see it. It is like the private vendor takes all the votes into a back room, counts them, and then comes out and announces the result. There is no test or check of the result, and the only preliminary test is an inadequate "test deck" test that proves the software will tabulate 1,000 ballots accurately. I do not know if any of the election you mentioned were "fixed". That's the point. We don't know. There is no verification of the machine counted election result. This is why we need to encourage the adoption of mandatory audits by way of scientifically designed random recounts.

    I hope this helps you understand the situation.

  • (Show?)

    Um, Beth, Alice is the mouthpiece they trot out for press conferences. The US Attorney actually prosecuting the Abramoff case is a career white-collar crime prosecutor with ten years of experience at least, and a Clinton appointee.

    And lots of people got money from tribes. What I want to see is who Abramoff took to play St. Andrews; that's the kind of thing you can't give back, and it looks like those foursomes were Republicans-only.

    The other side of this involves Rick Santorum. Abramoff, Santorum, and some other honchos of the VRWC met regularly to make sure that K Street was regularly populated by Republicans, and that it only served Republicans. Problem with that is, when the shit hits the fan, there are no Demos to share the blame with. Even the Bow Tie is having to admit that it can't possibly be spun to involve our party.

  • LT (unverified)
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    Thank you for this: Marion county is in much better shape than the other counties. They are using 1988 software and are one of the few counties that does their own programming. And Sharon Ricks doesn't let the vendors anywhere near before or during an election. Still, without an audit, it's faith based voting. The majority of counties in Oregon do not do their own programming.

    Exactly what kind of audit do you propose--an audit with the VRC Seal Of Approval because no othr audit can be believed? An audit by national election experts? Or what?

    Just a word of advice to the folks complaining about secret election software, faith based voting, etc.

    Those of us who have long toiled in the vinyards of election activism sometimes have this annoying habit of wanting details from people we have never met.

    To say that "all vote counting is suspect unless proven otherwise" implies that NOWHERE in this country can we trust vote counting. I think that is a little extreme.

    If a person has 20 hours of volunteer time a month to contribute to political activism, they have the right to decide if they will donate that time to candidates, or ballot measures, or issues around how votes are counted. If they live in Marion County, they have the right to trust Marion County elections and not be thrilled by cracks like "faith based voting".

    In order to convince folks of the rightness of your cause, be careful how you word things. You folks in the VRC may think it is more trustworthy than any elections division. But if people living in Marion County trust the election officials they know personally over total strangers, an attitude of "believe VRC over any election official" is not likely to win supporters for your cause. That is all I am trying to say.

  • BethP (unverified)
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    LT --

    You seem to be missing a couple of our primary points. As we've tried to emphasize, it's not our election officials in Oregon that we don't trust but the private vendors and their electronic election systems and secret software. Fortunately, all counties in Oregon use the optical scan system, which is one of the better systems (in part because it has paper ballots). However, there are some things that may (and I emphasize "may") simply be beyond the security capabilities of our officials. Marion County has has very professional elections officials and a top-notch election system and process with impressive (and reassuring!) security safeguards. They and We have a lot to be proud of! Unlike most counties, Marion County is also fortunate to have their own IT person to oversee much of the computer-related operations of the election process and to set up the county’s ballot definition files (BDF’s). At least some (most?) of the other counties contract out much of the computer-related work, including the BDF’s, to private vendors like ES&S. This is alarming. (Again, see http://www.whoscounting.org.)

    And it’s hardly us leading the charge against electronic election systems and secret software. Rather, it's computer scientists and computer security experts from around the country who've been leading the charge for several years now. They're also the ones who coined the phrase, "faith-based voting" for these systems. So when the experts are screaming about it, I happen to feel they know more than I do and I become alarmed. If you don't, that's your business.

    If you're not aware, a few tests have been performed recently in other states, such as Florida, to see if in fact a “secure” system could be hacked undetectably. In all cases, it was. At our national election reform summit held in Portland in Oct., Florida software programmer Clint Curtis even demonstrated how easy it is to hack into an electronic election system. One Oregon election official saw the demonstration. She was shocked and became a believer.

    Clint also stated to us that at least some Oregon county elections officials are mistaken when they claim to be doing the programming themselves. He said, "The conclusion they were working on is that by setting up the database to reflect the specific races and candidates [the BDF files] that they were actually programming. In actuality all the programming is done in the executable and they are only configuring the setup file. Why they would believe that they were operating on the coding level I am not sure. I showed them [at the summit] where the code actually exists and demonstrated how the internal code can effect the totals to the races they configured."

    However, we in the Oregon Voter Rights Coalition are NOT saying that our elections in Oregon are currently inaccurate, definitely being manipulated through hacking, whatever. But, based on experiences in numerous other states and warnings from computer experts, we don’t trust private vendors and their secret software counting our votes. (And it is the software counting our votes, not the election officials.) Therefore, what we ARE saying is that we currently have no way of having confidence in the reported machine-counted results.

    MANY election reform activists around the country are calling for hand-counted paper ballots only. No machines, period. The Oregon VRC is not calling for that rather drastic measure. (Although, I can certainly understand why Ohioans are.) What we are proposing is to have a scientifically designed, independent, random, hand-counted sampling of our paper ballots as a way of ensuring that the machine results, and the certified election results, are indeed accurate. The methodology that’s been developed by statisticians and researchers is relatively simple and inexpensive, and would provide voters with confidence in the election results. What's wrong with providing a simple way to give the voters confidence in the results?

    Sorry, but in this day and age of people like B* and Abramoff and Howard Ahmanson, Jr., mixed with computer technology -- and after 2 stolen presidential elections, numerous possibly stolen U.S. Senate races, and a few very suspicious gubernatorial election results -- telling us to "trust our fine election officials" and the secret software-counted tallies isn't good enough, not even in Oregon.

  • BethP (unverified)
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    Back to Abramoff.

    John D. --

    Just to clarify it a little, SourceWatch.org states that Alice Fisher was appointed "Assistant Attorney General to head the Criminal Division in the Department of Justice." In my understanding of the heirrarchy, that means she's the prosecuting U.S. Attorney's boss. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

    SourceWatch.org also states, "[Sen. Patrick] Leahy was also concerned about 'reports that she has had ties to Congressman Tom DeLay’s defense team' and 'also [wanted] to know what steps she [intended] to take to avoid a conflict of interest in the Department’s investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff and possibly Mr. DeLay.'" Again, that tells me that in this position, she would be directly involved with the Abramoff case.

    Hence, my concern is still very high over this issue.

  • Karl (unverified)
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    Back to voting- Growing up in Chicago, I am a firm believer that when it comes to anything concerning money or power, anything that can be corrupted will,sooner or later, be corrupted. You never put your faith in peoples integrety, you try to create an incorruptable system. ie. "The person who cuts the cake gets the last piece." I don't believe there has been a computer system created that someone can't figure out how to hack. I personally do not trust any elections unless they are hand counted. It could always be done after the fact. An election without a paper trail (Dieblot) isn't an election, it's a bad joke.

  • BethP (unverified)
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    Excellent points, Karl.

    FYI, if you're not already aware, there is a big discussion going on between various election reform groups across the country re insisting on hand-counted paper ballots only vs. some form of auditing of machine results. After meeting with some of Oregon's elections officials and trying to understand some of the many issues involved with actually DOING hand-counting, esp. in this day and age of larger population, etc., the Oregon VRC has taken the position that a scientifically designed, independent, hand-counted random sampling of our paper ballots -- an audit -- would be one way of still using modern technology yet ensuring the reported (and certified) results are accurate. Our proposal includes the stipulation that if a discrepancy is found between the audit and machine results, a full hand recount would be done. Many other groups are also pushing for such audits in their areas.

    Obviously, such an audit would not be the end-all solution. We still need to push to have access to the computer source code, such as with open source software, if that can be developed. At least we here in Oregon do not have to fight the major battle over e-voting machines vs. another type of system!

  • (Show?)

    There is a pretty widespread agreement w/in the election reform community toward moving to non-partisan election officers.

    <h2>However, this has little to do with Abramoff. The reforms from Abramoff will all concern changes to how you report gifts, "free" vacations, and other perks for members of Congress.</h2>
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