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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Hypocrisy Gingrich-Style

I actually like to hear Newt Gingrich speak.  He is very articulate, and sometimes what he says makes sense.  (Of course, sometimes it doesn't -- see post on OWS).  But the idea that he could make $1.6 to $1.8 million in "consulting fees" for trying to help Freddie Mac bolster its image with Republicans is sickening on many levels. 

It's the worst kind of influence peddling -- he went against his supposed principles for the sake of money.  So although it's sickening, it's also very sweet to see it come home to roost.  When Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were deemed to have been a big part of the meltdown problem, Gingrich immediately remembered how much he didn't like them (and could only remember getting about $300K from Freddie Mac).  Now that this has been disclosed, he's trying to tell us that he was merely giving Freddie Mac history lessons.  Bye Newt, and good riddance.

But Gingrich is far from unique.  I just read somewhere that either one hundred or two hundred K Street lobbyists are former Capitol Hill staffers.  And it's a rare lobbyist that will refuse a client or a position based on principles.  So how does one find a truly principled (current or former) politician or staffer?  Is there some kind of a test we can give them?

The answer is probably not.  The system simply has to be changed so that it's simply not worth it for people to become lobbyists -- either because the politicians can't be influenced, or because there isn't enough money to be made. 

Which brings me back to my point from previous posts.  Here, we've got a perfect example of someone in the 1% who is making money in a way that does more harm than good to society.  Gingrich is not a job creator.  Clearly, it was in Freddie Mac's interest to pay Gingrich those fees -- they wouldn't have done so if it wasn't.  So the "free market" is not the answer here.  Why can't we just impose a gigantic tax on income from this kind of work?

Just to bring it home, take a look at Jack Abramoff, who made $20 million a year buying politicians and their staffers.  He feels bad about it now, and he explained the system to the rest of us on Sixty Minutes a couple of weeks ago.

Here are some of the highlights of the Sixty Minutes appearance:

Abramoff: When we would become friendly with an office and they were important to us, and the chief of staff was a competent person, I would say or my staff would say to him or her at some point, "You know, when you're done working on the Hill, we'd very much like you to consider coming to work for us." Now the moment I said that to them or any of our staff said that to 'em, that was it. We owned them. And what does that mean? Every request from our office, every request of our clients, everything that we want, they're gonna do. And not only that, they're gonna think of things we can't think of to do.

Abramoff: At the end of the day most of the people that I encountered who worked on Capitol Hill wanted to come work on K Street, wanted to be lobbyists.

Stahl: You're telling me this, the genius of figuring out you could own the office by offering a job to the chief of staff, say. I'm having two reactions. One is brilliant. And the other is I'm sick to my stomach.

Abramoff: Right. Evil. Yeah. Terrible.

Stahl: 'Cause it's hurting our country.

Abramoff: Shameful. Absolutely. It's the worst thing that could happen. All parts of the system.

Stahl: I'm mad at you.

Abramoff: I was mad at me-- 

Stahl: Was buying favors from lawmakers easy? 

Abramoff: I think people are under the impression that the corruption only involves somebody handing over a check and getting a favor. And that's not the case. The corruption, the bribery, call it, because ultimately that's what it is. That's what the whole system is. 

Stahl: The whole system's bribery? 

Abramoff: In my view. I'm talking about giving a gift to somebody who makes a decision on behalf of the public. At the end of the day, that's really what bribery is. But it is done everyday and it is still being done. The truth is there were very few members who I could even name or could think of who didn't at some level participate in that.

Abramoff: If you make the choice to serve the public, public service, then serve the public, not yourself. When you're done, go home. Washington's a dangerous place. Don't hang around.

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