I never expected to find myself in agreement with Jack Abramoff, who recently emerged from prison after serving three years for his leading role in one of Washington’s biggest corruption scandals. But as I watched the November 6 episode of 60 Minutes, I was nodding, “Yes, yes, that’s the way it’s done,” as he explained how he had corrupted congressmen and their staffers:

“I would say, or my staff would say, to him or her, at some point, ‘You know, when you’re done working on the Hill, we’d very much like for you to consider coming to work for us.’ Now, when I said that to them, or any one of our staff said that to them, that was it. We owned them.”

Abramoff was far from the only Washington lobbyist to dangle the prospect of future employment as an incentive for public officials to “cooperate.” It is a common practice, though often done with more subtlety, with a hint or two being enough. Indeed, a future job in return for favorable action by a public official has become such a common practice in some agencies that not even a hint is needed. The job is simply expected as a matter of course. Consider the case of the SEC employee whose wife testified, during their divorce hearing, that he had boasted to her about how she shouldn’t worry about the future because whenever he left the agency, he was certain to be able to cash in with one of the companies he now regulated.

Abramoff has a solution for this problem— at least for congressmen and their staffs: prohibit them from ever becoming lobbyists. I agree and would do the same for all federal employees. This solution is usually dismissed as too draconian, but believe it or not, congressmen once went home when they were defeated. And remember that they, and federal employees, have among the nation’s most generous retirement plans.

Charles Peters

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly.