Democratic Underground

Abramoff: The Deeper Scandal Within

January 11, 2006
By Allan Lichtman

Dig beneath the surface of the Abramoff affair and you find the deeper scandal within: the systematic corruption by wealthy corporate interests of a once principled conservative movement. The result is a supposedly conservative Republican administration that has trampled every principle that conservatives once held dear: family decision making, privacy, individual liberty, fiscal responsibility, limited government, and respect for the rule of law.

Instead, George W. Bush and his allies have served their corporate clients by building the biggest, most intrusive, and least responsive government in our history.

Although its roots run more deeply into the recent past, the Gingrich Revolution of 1994, when Republicans captured both houses of Congress, marks the rise of bought-and-sold conservatism, as business tightened its grip on conservative organizations and the Republican Party. Corporate donors began expecting and receiving value returned for contributions to the American Right, not just the advancement of conservative principles, but direct action to boost profits.

The flagship Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) exemplified this new trend by serving corporate donors as combination think tank, lobbyist, advertiser, and grassroots agitator.

With C. Boyden Gray, formerly Ronald Reagan's White House Counsel, monitoring its work, CSE served corporate priorities. According to information uncovered by the Washington Post, CSE joined with donors from the oil, gas, and coal industries in 1994 to kill a proposed energy tax.

CSE opposed a multi-billion dollar federal project to restore the Everglades that threatened cane-growing land, netting it $700,000 from Florida sugar cane companies. CSE received $175,000 from Exxon after it derided theories of global warming as "junk science" and it received $75,000 from the Florida auto rental industry to back legislation that limited renter's liability from lawsuits. Scores of kindred groups followed the CSE model nationally and locally.

The Gingrich Revolution also spawned a new breed of lobbyist, shown in its most virulent form by Jack Abramoff. The new lobbyists not only siphoned off huge profits for themselves, but also orchestrated flows of big money to targeted officeholders and candidates and to conservative organizations that dispensed travel and perks to opinion-makers and public officials.

Corporate and political interests also came together in the so-called "K Street Project." According to a previously undisclosed 1998 Republican Party memo, the GOP would pressure lobbying groups "to hire more Republicans; Republican leadership refuses to meet with Dems; make Fortune 500 firms aware of whom they are hiring to represent them in Washington."

Representative Tom DeLay of Texas first led the K Street Project, which prospered after the election of George W. Bush in 2000 and the participation of Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

We are all paying the price for unprincipled, bought and sold government. The Bush administration seeks to crash into our family lives and dictate our most private decisions. It launched an unchecked program of spying on Americans and advocates a version of the Patriot Act that violates our civil liberties. It enacted a bankruptcy bill at the behest of credit card companies, an ineffective, confusing prescription drug plan with huge payoffs to pharmaceutical and insurance companies, and an energy bill that subsidies the big oil companies.

This conservative big government makes government costly and ineffective and opens fissures between the wealthy and other Americans. Liberals traditionally use their version of big government to reform society from the bottom up, funding welfare benefits, regulating business, empowering labor and advancing opportunities for minorities. Today's conservatives begin from the top down, subsidizing business and expanding their global reach, shielding corporations while punishing individuals for bad behavior, enforcing moral codes, and backing powerful military and police forces.

At a time when Democrats often feed at the same corporate trough as Republicans and don't seem to have compelling alternatives, we need new unflinching leadership ready to take on big government conservatism.

Allan Lichtman is a Professor of History at American University who is currently running as a Democrat for the U. S. Senate in Maryland. His website is www.allanlichtman.com, and he can be contacted at allanlicht@aol.com.

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