Jack Abramoff, the former lobbyist, is out of prison and available for interviews. On today's show we talk to him — not about his crimes, but about the legal kind of lobbying that goes on every day.
He walks us through a particular lobbying project he worked on: Tyco paid Abramoff's firm more than $100,000 a month to to fight a tax provision that would have cost the company about $4 billion.
Abramoff fielded what he called a "Mission Impossible-type team" of dozens of lobbyists with connections in key Congressional committees. Their mission was to win the support of one man in particular: Senator Charles Grassley. (Update, Dec. 21: See the response from Sen. Grassley's office at the end of this post.)
That meant, above all, helping Grassley raise campaign money. Abramoff says:
Access is vital in lobbying. if you can't get in your door, you can't make your case. Here we had a hostile senator, whose staff was hostile, and we had to get in. So that's the lobbyist safe-cracker method: is throw fundraisers, raise money, and become a big donor.
Sure, the effort included contributions, access to suites at sporting events where Grassley could host fundraisers, and private planes to fly him to other fundraisers.
But, perhaps more critically, it also included Abramoff going out to lots of his other clients to raise money for Grassley:
I had my clients understand that just as other clients who had nothing to do with them, would step up and give contributions to congressmen they needed to have some sway with, so similarly they needed to do the same. I went to every client I could, and rounded up every check we could for him.
In the end, the tax provision was changed.
Grassley has said publicly that he wasn't the Senator who changed the provision. We contacted Grassley's office for this story but didn't hear back. Tyco has accused Abramoff of misusing some of the company's money.
Update, Dec. 21: A Grassley spokeswoman sent us this statement:
Grassley wrote the bill to stop Tyco and others from avoiding taxes by moving overseas. He applied it retroactively to the year of Tyco's deal. The public record shows that part of Grassley's reform was rejected by House members.