His early days were filled with lobbying for Zaire's Mobutu to enter the USA, unfreezing Serbian assets for Montenegro (and the Milosevic regime), lifting weapons sanctions on Pakistan after they went nuclear, cutting red tape for a Russian company and several other contracts. While close to Jack's heart, none of this work was paying big money.
If the GOP K Street Project was going to work the team needed a point of the spear: a lobbyist who saw the picture and raked in the big bucks for the Party. Grover called it:
''Then this becomes a different town.''
How true Grover!
On the jump: how the GOP made Jack a star...
The goal was to turn K Street into a GOP fundraising and patronage machine. To be successful, they needed to show that the rules had changed and to intimidate lobbyist to change their giving and staffing patterns. They would also need a star lobbyist, somebody with the chops to attract and train GOP Congressional aides to take the new K Street positions the project would force open.
As profiled in the July 29, 1995 issue of The National Journal, Jack Abramoff fit the bill (emphasis added):
But in a Washington turned upside down by the 1994 elections, Abramoff has emerged as one of the biggest winners. Many of his fellow activists took high-profile jobs on Capitol Hill. Instead, Abramoff chose K Street, joining the Washington office of Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, a Seattle-based law firm, as a government affairs counselor.
Only a few other committed conservatives have become lobbyists in Washington, where the credo of the mercenary culture holds that no principle is worth the loss of a single billable hour. But Abramoff has given himself the tough task of advancing the goals of the conservative revolution while also making money. ''They agreed that I could work on things that were important to me,'' Abramoff said. He's also helping the law firm to give more of its political action committee money to Republicans.
Others see Abramoff as a revolutionary who will help conservatives conquer K Street just as they have Capitol Hill. Conservative lobbyists are expected to press for less regulation and lower taxes, not special favors that cost the government more money. ''Too many lawyers and lobbyists are not interested in the big picture, and Jack is,'' said Grover G. Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform and a longtime buddy of Abramoff's. ''He knows that to move the entire agenda, you need to get more Republicans elected who support the free-market approach.'' [snip]
Like the most successful lobbyists, Abramoff can rely on web of connections to help his clients. He is more than welcome among the new Republican leaders on Capitol Hill. ''He is someone on our side,'' said Ed Buckham, the chief of staff to House Majority Whip Tom D. DeLay, R-Texas. ''He has access to DeLay.''
Abramoff's connections are the result of years as a loyal soldier in the GOP army. The former football star at Beverly Hills (Calif.) High School was a Republican activist during his college days at Brandeis University, where he and Norquist registered thousands of college students for Ronald Reagan in 1980. Reagan carried the Bay State, the first Republican to do so in a generation.
In 1981, Abramoff was elected to be the national chairman of the College Republican National Committee. [snip] The College Republicans, in fact, spawned a generation of conservative stars, including [Dan] Cohen, Norquist, Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition and Rep. Phil English, R-Pa.
So Jack had Right Wing street cred. He was brash, flashy and he had just helped raise over $700,000 for GOP candidates in the 1994 elections. The money was passed through DeLay, who then won over Gingrich's candidate for GOP Whip. As Lou Dubose reported, "Abramoff was a made man."
Now all Jack needed was some clients to pay him millions of dollars and move his billables to the top of the K Street heap. The GOP needed somebody who was an easy mark. They found two in the US Department of the Interior. One was the sweatshop owners on Saipan, part of a US Territory in the Pacific (see this diary for more details). The other was the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
The Tribe, along with many others in the 1990s had just recently gone into the casino business. After many years in poverty, income started flowing to the reservation. In 1995 the GOP Congress created a problem for the Tribes, which could only be solved by hiring a savvy lobbyist with GOP connections. A Dec. 16, 1995 article from the The National Journal breaks down the con:
Indian leaders concede that they were surprised to learn that the House budget reconciliation bill contained only one new tax and that it was aimed at their gaming revenues. ''Everybody was caught napping, because it came up with short notice. They just decided they were going to tax Indian gaming because of newspaper stories about how lucrative it is and how much money some tribes are making,'' Chief Phillip Martin of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians said in a telephone interview. Only a few tribes are making ''good money,'' he added.
''We look at ourselves as a government,'' Martin said. Indian tribes have long enjoyed a special status, with their sovereignty recognized through treaties and court decisions.
It was a phony battle that set Abramoff up as a well-connected giant killer for the Tribes:
''We focused on the fact that it was a tax increase rather than an issue of fairness for Indians or its relationship to gaming,'' Abramoff said in an interview. ''We did that because it is such a strong notion in the Republican Party that taxes are an evil weapon of the welfare state. We also made the case that here's a people lifting themselves out of poverty, and this tax would set them back.'' Abramoff enlisted the support of the politically connected taxpayer movement. Influential groups, including the Coalition Against New Taxes (CANT), which represents 39 antitax organizations across the country, blasted the proposal as breaking the GOP commitment against such ''revenue enhancers.''
Conservative activist Grover G. Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, also weighed in. '' 'No new taxes' means no Indian gaming tax or any other whimsical folly of the revenue hunters,'' he wrote in a letter dated Nov. 8 to Rep. Jon Christensen, R-Neb., who sits on the Ways and Means Committee. ''There is no compelling need for revenue that justifies this startling and apparently random innovation.''
At the same time, Abramoff contacted the House GOP leadership staff, who were unaware of the new tax, an aide said. Taxpayer activists also made the case with The Washington Times, and the newspaper responded with a toughly worded editorial against the tax.
And it worked:
S. Timothy Wapato, the executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association, said that ''it was raised in a number of places on Capitol Hill that in the past a majority of contributions have gone to Democratic candidates.'' Now you might see a shift in contributions to supporters on Capitol Hill, he added. [snip]
Wapato ticked off a list of supporters, including Majority Leader Robert Dole, R-Kan., Majority Whip Trent Lott, R- Miss., Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y., Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., and Mark O. Hatfield, R-Ore. [snip]
Rep. Roger F. Wicker of Mississippi, the president of the GOP freshman class who represents the district in which the Choctaw Indians reside, emerged as another influential supporter. [snip]
Faced with the strong opposition in the Senate as well as the antitax fervor in the House, Archer dropped the provision. [snip]
Still, the fight is not over, Wapato said. ''We've been told it will be coming back,'' he noted. ''We were hit with a surprise attack (this time), but in the coming year, we are expecting it.''
It had all the earmarks of a classic con. Find a mark. Have one player put the mark in jeopardy. Another player saves the mark and wins trust and loyalty. Then, over time you take the mark to the cleaners.
That is what Abramoff and the GOP did to a growing number of Indian Tribes between 1995 and 2003. And the fees, when combined with the more than $10 million to protect sweatshops on Saipan, turn Jack into a very powerful lobbyist on K Street. Young staffers from all over the Hill rotated into Jack's lobbyist team and then out on their own to new jobs on K Street, Associations, back on the Hill or in the Bush White House.
Grover called it just right 10 years ago:
Washington is a different town. Now after a decade of GOP rule it oozes corruption. And our Country has changed as the GOP can only focus on the lesser demons of our fears.
It's clean-up time. It's time to take our country back and to take out the garbage.
Hey Grover, get ready, your time is coming...