Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Abbe Lowell, Esq.: About client Jack Abramoff

"Don't Scapegoat my Client"

USA Today editorial, May 23, 2005: Former Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff is the subject of more recent newspaper articles than Osama bin Laden. If charges are filed, Mr. Abramoff will answer for his specific conduct alleged to violate specific laws. However, what he should not have to answer for - to the Justice Department, Congress or the media - is engaging in the same conduct as other lobbyists.

It may be politically expedient to make Mr. Abramoff the poster child for today's lobbying excesses, but doing so is unfair to him and allows any actual problems to go unremedied when they are easily dismissed as the acts of "one bad apple." His conduct was not perfect or beyond reproach; context, however, has been absent from the coverage.

Mr. Abramoff was berated for charging clients - especially Native Americans operating casinos - too much money. Putting aside the fact that Mr. Abramoff's efforts literally saved some of his clients hundreds of millions for the single digit millions charged, why are so many questioning an agreement between a willing buyer and seller?

Stories are legend in Washington of powerbrokers who make a two-minute phone call and bill their clients hundreds of thousands of dollars. The media contributes to stereotypes when it assumes that executives at Halliburton or Boeing know the value of the lobbying dollars they spend, but that Native American leaders do not. Disclosure of lobbying and fees is the answer, and it worked here (revealing Mr. Abramoff's fees).

He also was criticized for raising political funds from clients who had matters pending before the members of Congress to whom the contributions went. If lobbyists getting access to politicians through high-end fundraising is criminal, then we will need hundreds of new prison cells. People may not like the idea that big givers have the ear of the president when average Americans do not. The solution is election law reform, not a public flogging of one person for operating under the current rules.

Recently, Mr. Abramoff was condemned for being involved in raising funds for groups to sponsor congressional travel. What kind of rule is it that lobbyists cannot sponsor travel themselves, but can permissibly get their clients and others to sponsor charitable and education groups? The solution seems obvious - officials should travel on public funds when the travel is part of their jobs and their own funds when it is not.

Every decade or so, a story arises where the curtain of Washington is lifted and America does not like what it sees. If all that then occurs is one person is ostracized, we miss the chance to see the problem is the system and not a person who operates within it.

Attorney Abbe Lowell, head of the White Collar Defense Group at Chadbourne & Parke, represents Jack Abramoff.

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