Gingrich: Abramoff Scandal Threatens 'Contract' Legacy
By Randy Hall
Jan 6, 2006
(CNSNews.com) - Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich asserted Wednesday that the legacy of the "Contract With America" -- the agenda he promoted in 1994 that helped the GOP win both houses of Congress -- is "hanging in the balance" because of the scandal involving former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
"That's why I'm speaking out so strongly" on the scandal, Gingrich said to reporters after telling the Rotary Club of Washington, D.C., that Abramoff and any other persons convicted of breaking the law in the matter "should definitely go to jail."
Gingrich told reporters that the more he has "heard about the Abramoff scandal, the angrier I've gotten." The former speaker said he found particularly "troubling" the amounts of money being spent on Washington lobbyists, including more than $80 million by a Native American group.
The Republican Party should "face up to its mistakes" in the matter, he added. "To claim that Abramoff is just 'one bad apple' is foolishness. The GOP should not try to defend his actions in the scandal."
Gingrich also stated that Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who has been temporarily replaced as House majority leader, should rule out any chance of returning to the position "because he will be too busy defending himself" from charges associated with the scandal. "The House has many competent and talented people who can handle the job without becoming a distraction to the party," Gingrich said.
"I think it's very important to understand that this is not just one person doing one bad thing," Gingrich added, and it isn't "about lobbyist corruption, either. You can't have a corrupt lobbyist unless you have a corrupt member [of Congress] or a corrupt staff" involved.
"This is a team effort," Gingrich said to laughter from the audience.
"I'll tell you what this city's first reaction is going to be," he stated. Lawmakers will "turn the scandal into lobbyist bashing, so the same system on the Hill that is unhealthy will protect itself by passing a narrowly drawn anti-lobbyist provision while the same people go to the same [Political Action Committee] fundraisers to raise the same money with the same cronies in the same manner."
Instead, "the Abramoff scandal has to be seen as part of a much larger and deeper problem," Gingrich asserted, before quoting Lord Acton's famous phrase: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
"This is a profound problem, not just a surface-level scandal," Gingrich said. As an example of the unfair advantage wealthy incumbents have in the electoral process, Gingrich referred to New Jersey Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine. "One person spent $100 million to first buy a Senate seat and then buy a governorship while voting for the McCain-Feingold bill to limit every middle-class citizen to $2,500 in an election," Gingrich said.
"There's something inherently wrong with that," Gingrich charged.
Gingrich also criticized lawmakers for "pouring millions of dollars into tax-exempt 527s" and using contributions from foreign governments and other entities to "build a wall of money to protect themselves from America," which he noted is "a bipartisan phenomenon.
"I don't care which party you're in; go look at where the U.S. senators get their money from," he said. "It ain't back home," which is "a serious, profound challenge" to the process of self-government.
"Lobbying is an honorable and legitimate function, but it should be transparent and accountable," Gingrich added. Also, "Americans should expect the majorities of the House and the Senate to put the country first and restrain or defeat those efforts at personal aggrandizement and personal power that undermine the effectiveness of limited government."
The Republican majority "arrived in Washington in 1994 as a reform party," the former speaker told reporters after his speech. "We accomplished a number of changes in the way the House is run.
Therefore, Gingrich's advice to the GOP this year was to return to the strategy that proved so successful 12 years ago. "Republicans should run as reformers who want to make government more effective and return to the concept of the balanced budget," which Congress accomplished for four years in the 1990s.
In doing so, "it will be necessary for Republicans to risk everything by trusting the American people." But if the GOP presses for "very real and substantial reform," the party could do very well in the fall," he said.