Jack Abramoff may be the most notorious and crooked lobbyist of our time. He was at the center of a massive scandal of brazen corruption and influence peddling. As a Republican lobbyist, starting in the mid-1990s, he became a master at showering gifts on lawmakers in return for their votes on legislation and tax breaks favorable to his clients. He was so good at it, he took home $20 million a year.
As we first reported last November, it all came crashing down six years ago when Jack Abramoff pled guilty to corrupting public officials, tax evasion, and fraud; and served three and a half years in prison. Today, he’s a symbol of how money corrupts Washington. In our interview, he opened up his playbook for the first time, and explained exactly how he used his clients’ money to buy powerful friends and influence legislation.
Jack Abramoff: I was so far into it that I couldn’t figure out where right and wrong was. I believed that I was among the top moral people in the business. I was totally blinded by what was going on.
Jack Abramoff was a whiz at influencing legislation and one way he did that was to get his clients, like some Indian tribes, to make substantial campaign contributions to select members of Congress.
Abramoff: As I look back it was effective. It certainly helped the people I was trying to help, both the clients and the Republicans at that time.
Lesley Stahl: But even that, you’re now saying, was corrupt?
Stahl: Can you quantify how much it costs to corrupt a congressman?
Abramoff: I was actually thinking of writing a book – “The Idiot’s Guide to Buying a Congressman” – as a way to put this all down. First, I think most congressmen don’t feel they’re being bought. Most congressmen, I think, can in their own mind justify the system.