Lobbyists, PR agencies prepare for fallout from Abramoff case

Former lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy to bribe public officials on January 3.

Former lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy to bribe public officials on January 3.

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Former lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy to bribe public officials on January 3. He accepted a plea that requires him to provide names and evidence of members of Congress who accepted his lavish gifts. It also will leave him with a possible jail sentence of up to 11 years.

The deal not only promises penalties for Abramoff, but also for the gift recipients. It will result in a severe crackdown on lobbyists' and government officials' practices in and out of the office and, notes Alice S. Fisher, head of the Justice Department's criminal divisions, will prove that the "government is not for sale."

Why does it matter?

"Members of Congress are going to be more hesitant to deal with image makers, especially one-on-one," says Ronald Christie, EVP and director of global government affairs at Ruder Finn in Washington, DC. "But those who have been operating honestly and above the board will continue to do well."

The public affairs firm-lobbyist union isn't new, and while not all agencies are proponents, many see it as a logical step when fighting for similar causes, especially in DC, where a joint effort is often crucial in passing legislation. However, in light of the scandal, it is increasingly important to enter a union based on trust and similar goals and ideals.


Five facts:

1 Prominent political figures who face charges are former majority leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), who once called Abramoff a close and dear friend, and Rep. Robert Ney (R-OH), chairman of the House Administration Committee. Also caught up in the scandal is PR man Michael Scanlon, a onetime press aide to DeLay who was charged with conspiring to defraud Indian tribe clients of millions of dollars in partnership with Abramoff.

2 There is a lack of transparency between Congress and those who seek to influence the system; steps are in place to create this transparency.

3 Comparisons have been made with the case of Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA), who recently plead guilty to accepting more than $2 million in bribes and trying to influence the Department of Defense on behalf of the donors. Both cases illustrate the need for more stringent reporting requirements, which Congress has already initiated steps to ensure.

4 There is a huge loophole in the system that allows gifts, trips, and expenses to exist under a separate campaign-finance law, as long as they are formally characterized as "campaign events" and include the exchange of campaign checks. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is currently fighting this loophole.

5 The reform agenda is still missing the creation of an independent organization to monitor possible abuses by lobbyists and lawmakers. Many say the reform is too slow, citing that it should not have taken this scandal to bring about change.


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