The news out of Washington this week has had nothing to do with the war in Iraq or the latest outrage over cutting off debate in Congress or some off-the-wall piece of legislation for yet another sacred cow, but everything to do with how shook up the place is these days.
The once swaggering Jack Abramoff, the high-powered lobbyist who has been caught with his hands in the cookie jar once too often, could well do in a lot of equally swaggering members of Congress now that he's cut a deal with federal prosecutors to snitch on the people whose palms he's been greasing ever since Tom DeLay and the boys came to power.
"Not long ago," wrote the New York Times, "Abramoff was perhaps Washington's most aggressive and at $750 an hour, most highly compensated deal maker, a flamboyant man who moved fluidly through the nexus of money and power. Now his decision to cooperate in a broadening corruption and bribery investigation has thrust him into the role of a corporate insider turning against the company that claimed just to be doing business as usual."
The Abramoff plea bargain has given a large number of politicians, mostly Republicans, but some Democrats too, a severe case of the nerves. Virtually no one in Washington was a bigger spender when he figured that spending might just influence a vote or two in the proper direction.
He'd make big campaign contributions, treat members of Congress and their staffs to lavish meals, trips to big sporting events and exotic places and all the while fill up his own bank account with millions of dollars he'd get from kickback arrangements with other lobbyists.
Abramoff's sins will be small potatoes, though, if, as expected, a number of members of Congress are found to have accepted bribes from him and his cohorts in exchange for legislative favors. It's one thing for a private citizen to be a crook. It's quite another for someone entrusted by the people to do the people's business to be one.
Consequently, we have the spectacle this week of everyone from President Bush to Wisconsin's 1st District Congressman Paul Ryan scrambling to either give back or give away the money that Abramoff contributed to their campaign coffers. Eighth District Rep. Mark Green, who hopes to be the Republican candidate for governor this fall, has yet to give back money he got from DeLay, whose cozy relationship with Abramoff may land him in a federal prison.
For those of us in Wisconsin, none of this comes as a big surprise. We've become quite aware of how the need for money in today's politics has served to corrupt the entire system.
About the only difference I can see is that at least here in Wisconsin those charged in the scandals apparently didn't take any of the money for their own use. It was all aimed at trading favors for campaign cash to keep their parties in power. In Washington, though, there obviously aren't such fine lines.
Nevertheless, it's all crooked. And it will continue to be crooked until we the people insist that we pass laws to take money out of politics. That's the only way the politicians will work for us and not the money changers.
Dave Zweifel is editor of The Capital Times. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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