Dictionary.com defines the noun "Bribe" this way:
1. Something, such as money or a favor, offered or given to a person in a position of trust to influence that person's views or conduct.
2. Something serving to influence or persuade.
Isn't this precisely what a lobbyist does? Isn't that the purpose of a lobby in the first place? Again, dictionary.com defines the verb "to lobby" as:
1. To try to influence public officials on behalf of or against (proposed legislation, for example): lobbied the bill through Congress; lobbied the bill to a negative vote.
2. To try to influence (an official) to take a desired action.
How do lobbyists do this? By making significant campaign donations on behalf of their clients. By wining and dining legislators in an attempt to influence their votes on a particular topic. By providing non-monetary perks to legislators, again with the intention of influencing their votes. The only difference between a successful lobby and a bribe is that the former is legal.
Now, in Abramoff's case, what he did certainly crossed the boundaries between legal lobby activities and criminal activities. What his actions underscore, though, is a fundamental problem with the entire concept of lobbying in the first place. As long as this system of legalized bribery is in place, large special interest groups will always have a far greater voice in our government than the people the government is allegedly in place to serve.
Eddy Murphy's satirical look at insider politics in The Distinguished Gentleman actually provides a chillingly accurate view into the corruption that surrounds everyday legislation. The voice of the people is seldom heard in Washington. Too often, it's drowned out by the roar of the lobbyist.
Right now, there's a lot of "harrumphing" by the talking heads over the Abramoff case. Analysts, in typical "The End is Near" fashion, are trumpeting the downfall of many a politician as Abramoff starts to name names. The truth is, however, nothing is going to come of this other than a stint at the government's expense by Abramoff. There is not a person in congress that has not dealt with lobbyists, and the full extent of their dealings with lobbyists is not something any congressman wants their constituents to know. The Abramoff case is going to be swept aside as fast as anything can possibly move in Washington.
Will there be any legislative changes forthcoming? Obviously not. There's no way congress is going to vote away their cash cow. So for the moment, enjoy the hoopla being generated in the media, but expect nothing other than a side-show to come of this. It's not in any legislator's best interests to modify the rules or to change the legalized bribery that occurs, and after all, it's their best interests that come before all of ours.
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