Abramoff believes corrupt lawmakers — and the lobbyists who seek to influence them by improper means — don’t see anything wrong with what they’re doing. He should know — he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong, either.
“You’ll hear from Congressmen, ‘A $2,000 contribution isn’t going to buy my vote.’ ‘A meal isn’t going to buy my vote,’ ” Abramoff said, the table between us bare but for his laptop computer. “But we learn, in fact, from the Talmud that they’re wrong.”
Abramoff, 53, has been an observant, Orthodox Jew since he was 12, so it’s not surprising that he points to a talmudic source as part of his new campaign against bribery of public officials. But while he was showering legislators with gifts, Abramoff believed he wasn’t on the wrong side of Jewish law, as the Torah restriction on bribery focuses only on judges.
“Legislators,” Abramoff said, “I never thought or considered them to be judges.”
He later found Jewish commentators who do equate bribing lawmakers with bribing judges, but Abramoff said that, generally speaking, it’s difficult to pinpoint why what lobbyists do is wrong. Even those who don’t live and work inside the Beltway, he said, shrug their shoulders at the thought of a lobbyist buying a meal for a lawmaker.
“But having a restaurant where congressmen can come and eat sushi to their hearts’ content, drink wine and then leave without a bill? Over and over again?” Abramoff asked, rhetorically. “Put him on a Gulfstream, fly him to Scotland to play St. Andrews and Carnoustie and all these places, you know? Raise a bunch of money for him? I think we’re getting into the trouble zone here.”