Bloggers Weigh In on Abramoff Charges A look at potential changes in lobbying, following the criminal charges filed against super lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Bloggers Weigh In on Abramoff Charges

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Jack Abramoff, the one-high, high-flying friend of the powerful, pleaded guilty today to defrauding lenders in a Florida casino ship deal. Yesterday Abramoff pleaded guilty in Washington to other fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion charges. And he's agreed to help prosecutors, to name names, in a wide-ranging federal corruption investigation.

All this has politicians here in the capital nervous, to say the least, and they've started trying to distance themselves from any association they may have had with the lobbyist. Today, for example, President Bush's re-election campaign announced it would return about $6,000 in campaign contributions connected to Abramoff. Similar announcements have come from former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, from Representative Roy Blunt, the Republican whip, and House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Today we want to talk about lobbying and the effect that Abramoff's case may have on the way influence is peddled here in Washington, DC. We're going to be hearing from three political bloggers, who have been following and writing about this case. And, of course, we want to hear from you. How deep do you think the scandal goes? How different is it from what's happened in the past? Where do you think it'll go? Is there anything that can be done to prevent future scandals? Our number here in Washington is (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. You can also send us e-mail; is the address.

And we begin with Glenn Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee. He publishes the Weblog And he joins us from his home in Tennessee.

Nice to have you on the program today.

Professor GLENN REYNOLDS (University of Tennessee; Publisher, Hi. It's great to be here.

CONAN: Well, since we don't yet know exactly what Abramoff is going to say in court or to the prosecutors, what are the rumors in the blogosphere? How deep can this go?

Prof. REYNOLDS: Oh, the rumors are far and wide, though nobody really knows. What you do know is that, partly because this is how Washington works and even more as a result of the so-called K Street strategy that the Republicans developed back in the '90s to bring lobbyists into the tent as a means of cementing their power, there's just a lot of blurring of lines. People like Abramoff, of course, lobbied for corporate clients, but they sometimes also helped organize the troops at the behest of people in the House leadership or the Senate leadership. That's not unheard of in the past, but they could have carried it to a new high.

And so I think one thing that's tricky is that a lot of people's dealings with Abramoff sort of seamlessly moved from one to another, and it's going to be hard for them to keep track of who said what when about what.

CONAN: Yeah. And keeping track of the cast of characters is not going to be easy. I mean, all of these--many of these people were congressional staffers and then to work either as a publicist or as lobbyists. And some of them are relatives of members of Congress.

Prof. REYNOLDS: Oh, there's a lot of that. And, indeed, you know, the--I would follow Michael Kinsley's general rule of Washington scandals, which is that usually the real scandal isn't what's the crime; it's what's legal. And that's probably going to turn out to be the case here as well.

CONAN: Now you would expect that if you were on K Street today, there might be a few empty tables at some of the better-known restaurants.

Prof. REYNOLDS: I imagine that's right, and I imagine those people are home scrolling through the e-mail archives trying to figure out what messages they got from Abramoff and whether they should purge their BlackBerrys.

CONAN: 'Cause that's one of the things that prosecutors said--is that Abramoff came to them with a `trove,' as they described it, of e-mails and other material.

Prof. REYNOLDS: That's got to be everybody's worst nightmare, especially because, again, people probably don't fully remember their interactions with him, and so that means they're likely to be quite nervous.

CONAN: We want your questions and comments on this as well, (800) 989-8255; e-mail, Anthony will begin. Anthony's calling from San Diego.

ANTHONY (Caller): Yes. Hi. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

ANTHONY: I'm a little bit surprised that anyone's surprised that this is going on. I mean, I actually thought it was common knowledge among the citizens of the country, the politicians of the country that this is the case. There's corruption in lobbying. There's lobbyists that manipulate, there's politicians that manipulate. This is actually, I thought, common knowledge. So the fact that this is opening in the media the way it is seems actually strange to me. That's my first comment.

And then my second comment would be--or question would be: Will this be somewhat like the oil scandal, where there's a lot of hoopla, a lot of drama, a lot of questioning and then it just sort of fades in the distance and nothing is different?

CONAN: That's a good question. What do you think? What do you think, Glenn Reynolds?

Prof. REYNOLDS: Oh, a couple of things. First, there is a sort of, you know, bizarre character to the press treatment of this. They're a little bit like Captain Renault in "Casablanca."

CONAN: Shocked.

Prof. REYNOLDS: You know, `Shocked, shocked!' to find out that there's money in politics. And, you know, it's not as if journalists are immune from this themselves, and certainly if they're as plugged in as they claim to be, they should have known about some of this before. But that doesn't mean it isn't real. I mean, yeah, there's always been a lot of this sort of thing in politics, but, you know, a lot of banks get robbed, too. It doesn't mean you're not a crook when you do it.

As to the second point, we've seen a lot of faux scandals in Washington. And, in fact, you know, my first instinct whenever people start crowing about a scandal in Washington is to assume it probably won't go anywhere because most of them are bogus. This one, I think, is probably real, and I don't think it's going to evaporate. And I think that there are some Republicans trying to comfort themselves, you know, pointing out the fact that, you know, Max Baucus and Byron Dorgan, you know, were...

CONAN: A couple of Democrats.

Prof. REYNOLDS: ...(unintelligible) and all. But I think that, you know, they can point to that stuff, and it's all true, I guess. But that--it's going to be perceived as a Republican scandal and I think correctly so. It is.

ANTHONY: You think there's an actual reason, though, that there's any surprise about this?

Prof. REYNOLDS: I mean, I think the surprise is mostly affected to make it sound like a bigger story. I don't think people are surprised. For one thing, this story has been sort of visibly gathering steam for about six or eight months.

CONAN: But the day that the principal figure agrees to cooperate with prosecutors and name names is a pretty significant day.

Prof. REYNOLDS: Oh, that's a big news event, and it certainly tells you that it's not going to evaporate now. I mean, I suppose it could have up to this point. But, yeah--and it certainly gives a lot of people a reason to be shaking in their boots.

ANTHONY: Can we expect any reform?

Prof. REYNOLDS: My last book was a book called "The Appearance of Impropriety," and it was about ethics and political scandals. And it suggested that most ethics reforms are for show and don't really accomplish much.


Prof. REYNOLDS: If people want to be serious, instead of looking at ethics rules, they should really be looking at structural reform, things that limit the ability of lobbyists to influence things by limiting the ability of Congress to do things that are obvious. And those are structural changes like balance budget amendments, term limits or, one of my favorites, the truth-in-legislation amendment, which says that each bill in Congress can embrace only one subject. You can't bury things in the depths of these 5,000-page omnibus bills. That would do more to clean up corruption than a new layer of House and Senate ethics rules.

CONAN: Anthony, thanks very much for the call.

ANTHONY: Thank you.

CONAN: And along those lines, here's an e-mail question from Linda in Minneapolis: `In an editorial today in The Washington Post, it mentioned the tenacity of Senator John McCain trying to break this case. What role did he play?'

Prof. REYNOLDS: Well, I'm not sure how deep McCain's involvement goes, but he's pretty clearly a major beneficiary. Indeed, you've got Howard Fineman speculating today that if McCain doesn't get the presidential nomination, this kind of thing will give him enough juice to run as an Independent perhaps on a ticket with Joe Lieberman.

CONAN: How is it going to affect the political parties? Are they--given the timing, we could have certainly indictments, if not trials, before Election Day.

Prof. REYNOLDS: Yeah. Democrats hope it's going to help them a lot, and it's probably good for them, though if you look at the actual polls as this stuff has broken out, Bush keeps rising and Congress keeps falling without the perception of Democrats vs. Republicans shifting very much. But I think that if some of the Republican members of Congress are indicted, obviously they're likely to be replaced by Democrats; at least there's a pretty good chance of that. And that's what the Democrats have to be hoping for.

CONAN: And is there a possibility--and there's already been one example--of this scandal spreading to the White House?

Prof. REYNOLDS: It's possible. I--you know, what I hear is that people don't think that the White House has any direct involvement in it, but you never know. And, of course, it's always possible that whether or not there's anything illegal, there'll be something embarrassing.

CONAN: Do you think, given the complexity of this and the--well, our first caller suggested the cyclical nature of this or maybe the cynical nature of this, do you think this is going to capture the public imagination?

Prof. REYNOLDS: I don't know. I mean, everybody keeps waiting for a scandal to be another Watergate, and the trouble is that Watergate's already happened. You know, you could remake "Casablanca," too, but it wouldn't be like the first time.

CONAN: No, it certainly would not.

Prof. REYNOLDS: So, you know, I don't know whether it will catch fire as much as people hope. What the Democrats have to do is give people a reason to vote for them as well as a reason to be disgusted with the Republicans.

CONAN: Let's get another caller in. This is Bill; Bill from Roanoke, Virginia.

BILL (Caller): Hi. I was wondering, how can we, the people, put pressure on the Justice Department to apply the laws to politicians as they do to criminals? What good does it do to return the ill-gotten goods of a bribe or other unethical activities as a politician when we hold criminals accountable entirely for their actions? If a bank robber was to return the money to the bank, do you suppose they would let him off and drop the charges? Or if a jewel thief were to return the jewels to the store, do you suppose that he would be let off just because he returned his ill-gotten goods?

CONAN: In this case, I think they're sending the money they got not back where it came from but to charities. But, in any case, that doesn't change the fundamental question, Glenn Reynolds.

Prof. REYNOLDS: Well, that's right. You know, if you're a gangster and you make your money illegally, it doesn't matter that you donate some of it to the Red Cross. I actually think that politicians need more discipline here, and I think we should start looking at some of the zero-tolerance laws they've been passing for us.

BILL: (Laughs)

Prof. REYNOLDS: I know, for example, somewhere in Texas they require people that have been convicted of drunk driving to wear a red vest with a D on it whenever they drive for a year afterwards. And I think politicians who are found to have accepted an illegal campaign contribution should have to wear a big red vest with a dollar sign on it for a year afterward, and I think that would be a great way of discouraging that sort of thing.

CONAN: Bill, thanks very much for the call.

BILL: Thank you.

CONAN: And, Glenn Reynolds, thanks very much for your time today.

Prof. REYNOLDS: Thanks for having me.

CONAN: Glenn Reynolds, professor of law at the University of Tennessee, where he publishes the Weblog, and he joined us there from his home. You can read more from him at

Jeralyn Merritt is a criminal defense attorney, who publishes the Weblog TalkLeft. She joins us from her offices in Denver, Colorado.

And nice to have you on the program today.

Ms. JERALYN MERRITT (Criminal Defense Attorney; Publisher, TalkLeft): Thanks for having me.

CONAN: So what are people saying in the TalkLeft blogosphere?

Ms. MERRITT: Well, it is a culture of corruption out there. Abramoff's plea deal--I think he got a great deal. His lawyers did a tremendous job. I would be surprised if he does any more than four and a half to five years in prison.

CONAN: Did it strike you as curious former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is on trial, a different case--money laundering case in Texas--and hires a prominent Democratic attorney? Jack Abramoff hires another prominent Democratic attorney, Abbe Lowell.

Ms. MERRITT: You know, it doesn't surprise me. Dick DeGuerin, who represents Tom DeLay, also represented Kay Bailey Hutchison when she got in trouble. And Abbe Lowell is--you know, he's an excellent attorney. And I don't think politics matter. Look at Karl Rove, who has Robert Luskin, another Democrat. I think they want the best lawyers they can get, and they know that really good lawyers are not going to put their politics above representing their clients.

CONAN: Well, is there a feeling, aside from the Democratic lawyers who might do well out of this, that the Democratic Party could do well out of this?

Ms. MERRITT: The Democratic Party could do well out of it, and I think as your last guest said, people are going to perceive this as a Republican scandal. The question is: Are they just going to be so disenchanted with all politicians that they just kind of say, `I'm not going to vote for incumbents of either party'? And the Democratic Party has to get a message together, something other than it's just that the Republicans are bad. They have to convince people they are good.

CONAN: We're talking about the fallout from Jack Abramoff's guilty pleas yesterday in Washington, today in Miami.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see if we can get a caller on the line. This is Brett, Brett calling from Washington, D--or from Wilmington, excuse me, Wilmington, North Carolina.

BRETT (Caller): Hey, guys. How are you?

CONAN: There you go.

BRETT: Can you hear me?

CONAN: Yeah, you're on the air. Go ahead.

BRETT: Great. Thanks. One of your guests mentioned John McCain before. You know, it's commonly said that McCain can win the election but he can't win the nomination. Do you think part of the fallout of this sort of scandal ethic that we have now in Washington will finally get the Republican National Committee or either party, really, to remove that barrier to someone who seems to have a demeanor of cleanliness, you know, and everybody else is dirty?

CONAN: What do you think, Jeralyn Merritt?

Ms. MERRITT: You know, I think John McCain is going to try hard to get the presidential nomination, and Republicans--they may go ahead and do that. I don't think he'll be able to run as an Independent. I don't think this country is ready to elect someone on an Independent party position. But John McCain has scored points with the public both with his anti-torture amendment and with his campaign finance legislation. So you know, there's a chance he could get it.

CONAN: OK. Brett, thanks very much.

BRETT: Thank you.

Ms. MERRITT: Bye-bye. And let's go to Brandon. Brandon's in Portland, Oregon.

BRANDON (Caller): Yeah, hi, Neal. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

BRANDON: My comment and question is I have heard that, you know, members of Congress, former members of Congress have access to special areas on the Capitol that nobody else has access to, and often use that to have a very lucrative lobbying business after they're out of office, and wonder if that's, you know, maybe part of the problem and if we can get some comments on it.

CONAN: Well, the special areas they have access to are the House and Senate floors, wherever they were members. But anyway, Jeralyn Merritt?

Ms. MERRITT: You know, I don't know about the special areas, but I do know that there's a law that prevents staffers from leaving and then soliciting on behalf of their lobbyist group for a year after they leave. That's why one of the people mentioned in the indictment yesterday, not by name but by his role, is going to be in trouble. So you know, the time limits, I think, have to be strictly enforced.

CONAN: And--but there's--the population of lobbyists to politicians in Washington is surprisingly large; the ratio is very large.

Ms. MERRITT: It's huge. And this investigation is going to have ramifications for it. I mean, people, you know, particularly members of Congress now are going to be very hesitant about taking money from lobbyists. They're not going to want to be caught up in this. The hard part is that it's not illegal to take money from lobbyists; it all depends on your intent in doing it. If there's no quid pro quo involved, such as I'm taking this money and I'm going to do you a favor by supporting your legislation because you gave me the money, if that's not involved, it's not a crime.

CONAN: Yeah. Maybe they gave him the money because he supported their position and they wanted to see him elected.

Ms. MERRITT: You know, that's possible. Or the Congress member may have supported that legislation all along.

CONAN: All right. Brandon, thanks very much for the call.

BRANDON: Thank you.

CONAN: Is this a bipartisan scandal, do you think, Jeralyn?

BRANDON: I don't think so. I think you're going to find that it is the Republicans that get swept up in it. I know there have been repres--there's been references to Senator Borgan--Dorgan, I'm sorry. You know, but he actually has submitted a letter that he wrote way before he got the money from Abramoff saying that he was in support of the program that Abramoff wanted him to support in the first place. I don't think there's going to be a lot of Democrats, and I think the people that Abramoff is going to cooperate against are, by and large, mostly going to be Republicans.

CONAN: Jeralyn Merritt, thanks very much for being with us today, taking time out from your blog.

Ms. MERRITT: Sure. Thanks for having me.

CONAN: Jeralyn Merritt, a criminal defense attorney, publishes the Weblog TalkLeft. She joined us from her offices in Denver, Colorado, and you can read her at

When we come back from a short break, we'll continue our discussion on Jack Abramoff and the effect of his guilty pleas and pending testimony. And we'll hear about splits amongst the Iraqi coalition trying to form a new government in Baghdad. Back after the break.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

And here are the headlines for some of the other stories we're following here today at NPR News. The White House has promised a full investigation into the West Virginia coal mine disaster. Families of the victims were mistakenly told that most of the miners had survived, only to learn three hours later that 12 of the 13 miners had died. And two new vaccines have been deemed highly effective and safe in preventing rotavirus infection; that's an intestinal bug that hospitalizes tens of thousands of American children every winter. Rotavirus also kills at least half a million children a year in developing countries. You can hear details on those stories and much more later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, an historical look at the presidency of George W. Bush with Yale Professor Stephen Skowronek. He says the president is an orthodox innovator, a president who takes the cues from a previous president--in this case, Ronald Reagan--but then innovates according to current circumstances. Sometimes these orthodox innovators do well; sometimes they get themselves into trouble. Find out more tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION.

Today we're talking about lobbying and how this might change in light of the criminal charges filed against superlobbyist Jack Abramoff. And joining us now is Matt Lewis, a conservative commentator and consultant who blogs at Human Events Online. He joins us from his offices here in Washington.

And it's nice to have you on the program.

Mr. MATT LEWIS (Human Events Online): Thank you for having me.

CONAN: Your most recent post about Abramoff was titled, quote, "Story of 2006?"--question mark--"Let's Hope Not."(ph) Do you think that's the way most conservatives are responding?

Mr. LEWIS: Well, I don't know. I mean, I think that what we had yesterday was this story going from--it has been inside baseball up until now. I mean, this story's really been out for quite a while now, and people on NPR or listeners to NPR and people who read The Washington Post knew about it. But I think yesterday was the first time that the average American, you know, in Des Moines, Iowa, or Fargo, North Dakota, is becoming aware of this guy Jack Abramoff.

CONAN: And we may become much more aware of Jack Abramoff. Are Democrats, you think, going to try to take advantage of this, and do you think it's going to work?

Mr. LEWIS: Well, I absolutely think they will try to take advantage. I think that if you look at the--Nancy Pelosi and the other Democrat leaders, it's pretty much standard operating procedure for them to try to exploit this sort of thing. And so far it seems to me that anytime they've gone overboard, it has backfired. I think they would be wise to kind of--you know, there's a maxim in politics: `Don't interfere with your opponent when he's in the process of destroying themselves.' But as a conservative, I'm not really in the position of giving them advice; if I were, it would be to shut up for a while.

CONAN: Well, what about--what advice might you have for conservatives? Should they play defense, or is it time to clean house?

Mr. LEWIS: Well, that's a great question. I think--here's the deal--as a movement, you know, the conservative movement, there are not only grassroots activists around the country but leaders here in Washington, DC, who are fine, upstanding people who sacrificed their lives because they believe in the cause. And if it is indeed proven that someone who calls themselves a conservative has done something unethical, then I think we need to wash our hands of them. And you know, for some of the people that are still accused, they haven't been found guilty--obviously Mr. Abramoff has pled guilty--pleaded guilty. But as a movement, we have to be beyond reproach. And our loyalty is to principle, not to individuals, 'cause individuals will always let you down.

CONAN: Well, here's an e-mail. We were talking earlier with one of our earlier guests about John McCain and some of the pluses that he may get out of this. An e-mailer, Jonathan in Oakland, California, writes, `Does anyone remember that McCain was among the senators implicated in the Keating Five scandal, which this,' he says, `closely resembles?'

Mr. LEWIS: Yeah, and the thing is that the American public has a very short memory, and no one except for us, you know, inside politics, inside baseball, we're the only ones who remember that about John McCain. But you're right, it seems a bit ironic and somewhat opportunistic.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Ken, Ken calling from Ithaca, New York.

KEN (Caller): Hi. I'll ask a very quick question that follows right on to the comments just made. I'm wondering if there are any senators or representatives who could actually be forced out by this scandal, which, after all, we've heard about the Senate being very barely in play and the House not--might change the dynamic. And I'll take my question off the air. Thank you.

CONAN: All right. All right, Ken. And I assume what Ken means is forced to resign basically before the election, open seats then instead of contested seats.

Mr. LEWIS: Right. That's a very good question because, you know, there may be political implications even if people aren't forced to resign. And in terms of the political implications, timing's very important. If bad news breaks in March, then incumbents, who win 99 percent of the time, are probably still safe. We've created a country where it's very difficult to beat an incumbent. So if the story breaks in March, we're probably OK; if it breaks in September or October, we're in trouble. But I think that right now--and I don't have any inside information, but the one guy who appears to be the most in trouble is Representative Ney. And he's been mentioned more than anybody else in the news. So not--without any inside information, I think that he's someone who's probably on that short list of people who are concerned right now.

CONAN: Well, the person with whom Mr. Abramoff is most closely associated, though, is former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Mr. LEWIS: Yes. I am a huge fan of Tom DeLay, and so far--and I stand by this--it appears to me that there certainly are people who may have been in his employ who may be involved in this, but so far there does not seem to be any indication at all that Representative DeLay was in any way involved. But he is the guy that people--that the liberals particularly would love to take down, simply because he's been so effective as a Republican. And whether or not they're able to do that, the prospects of him maintaining his status as majority leader, you know, took a big hit yesterday as well.

CONAN: Returning--the prospect of returning as majority leader; he had...

Mr. LEWIS: That's right.

CONAN: Yeah. And he still...

Mr. LEWIS: Perception is reality, and even though there's absolutely no evidence he had anything to do with it, his name's been in the news associated with it.

CONAN: It will be interesting now--do you think--Republicans have been holding off about having an election to replace him, leaving that position open for him to return to should he resolve his present legal difficulties in Texas; it looks like that may take a while. Do you think this might spur them to move that election up?

Mr. LEWIS: It might. In fact, I think I saw today in The Post that Newt Gingrich, former Speaker Newt Gingrich--I believe he is now saying that Republicans should go ahead with an election. But the fact is Tom DeLay has been, without a doubt, the most effective Republican bar none. And there's a lot of folks who are in office because of him. He's been a tremendous leader. He even made his own personal district in Sugar Land, Texas, less Republican to help more Republicans get elected, so there's a lot of loyalty to him. So it's going to be very interesting how it plays out.

CONAN: Well, let's get another caller in, Sharon, Sharon in Portland, Oregon.

SHARON (Caller): Yes. Good morning, Neal.

CONAN: Good afternoon where I am, but go ahead.

SHARON: Good afternoon, I guess, there, yeah. My question to your guest right now is he made a comment regarding Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats, that--and I believe the verbiage he used was they were exploiting or going to exploit the situation. And my question...

CONAN: Well, to be fair, I asked him whether they would. But, yeah, go ahead.

SHARON: Yeah. My question is, if this situation was reversed, would he not believe the Republicans would exploit to the maximum, as they have done in the past, in the same way?

Mr. LEWIS: Well, I think you make a good point in that, you know, a lot of what happens in politics has little to do with philosophy or ideology and a lot to do with pointing the finger. And I don't want to--I'm not going to pretend that both sides aren't sometimes guilty of it. But I will say I think that sometimes it's smart politics to not get involved. But I don't think that--certain leaders have a hard time keeping their mouths shut, and I think that Nancy Pelosi is in that category.

CONAN: All right. Sharon, thanks.

SHARON: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. But...

Mr. LEWIS: Howard Dean, too.

CONAN: Howard Dean--well, they're both in positions where people do ask them to respond to various things in the news. But it's hard for conservatives and Republicans to argue at this point, `Well, you know, it's just sort of cyclical; it just happens when people are in power too long. Look what happened to the Democrats,' 'cause the implication is that Republicans have been in power too long.

Mr. LEWIS: Yeah. I mean, there's certainly that. And one of my mentors, Lyn Nofziger, who's a former press secretary for President Reagan, recently did a story in The Washington Times where he made--he basically said he thinks Republicans have been in too long. There's a lot of conservatives who are taking sort of a different angle with this, and they look at it like this is sort of a result of big government in that, you know, whether Republican big government or Democrat big government, big government is bad. So there are certain bloggers and conservatives who are taking that angle.

My personal opinion is that I think that unfortunately on both sides of the aisle, there are some people who--let's take conservatives. I think some people start off as good conservatives who truly believe the things that we espouse and along the way they are corrupted. And then I think there's other people who--it's been very popular in the last 10 years to be a Republican. And they're basically conservatives out of convenience because it's a good job opportunity, and they're charlatans and they're not true believers. And either way, as a conservative, we simply must stand on principle. And if one of our own is proven to have done something illegal or unethical, then we have to call a spade a spade.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get one more caller in, Jake. Jake's calling us from Tallahassee.

JAKE (Caller): Hi. Yeah.

CONAN: Go ahead, Jake.

JAKE: I wanted to ask--the initial speaker, your initial guest, said something about reform and talked about truth in legislation and so forth. I was wondering whether the current gentleman thought would be appropriate to prevent this expression of special interest power, what kind of reforms would he propose in an ideal world for doing away with this sort of thing once and for all.

CONAN: Well, Matt Lewis, I know that Senators McCain and Feingold, a Republican and a Democrat--and those two names together have a certain resonance in reform issues--have both separately proposed lobbying reform bills.

Mr. LEWIS: Right. Here's the one message that I want to make plain and clear, that Jack Abramoff is not indicative--or this behavior is not indicative of the way things are in Washington or of even lobbying. This is a very rare case. And let's be frank that McCain-Feingold has not helped things. I mean, if--we wouldn't be having this scan--here we are facing potentially what could be one of the worst, you know, scandals, and it's after McCain-Feingold.

And, you know, I'm one of those people that believe that as a citizen of the United States in terms of donating to a campaign, you should be able to donate to a campaign as much as you want, but it should be fully disclosed, a disclosure and transparency. And I would say that if there is reform, that it shouldn't be limiting freedom of speech or freedom to donate; it should be making sure that things are transparent. And I would support that kind of reform.

CONAN: Jake, thanks very much for the call.

JAKE: Thanks, guys.

CONAN: And, Matt Lewis, thank you for your time today.

Mr. LEWIS: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

CONAN: Matt Lewis blogs at Human Events Online, and he joined us from his office here in Washington, DC.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.