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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.