FLORIDA, March 18, 2012 — It has been many years since the name “Bob Ney” was mentioned much in the media.
Over the last several weeks, however, that has changed considerably.
The former Ohio congressman was the only public officeholder on Capitol Hill to face charges for the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. After a stint in federal prison, Ney devoted his career to informing others about the smoky backroom tactics which have come to define Washington.
His efforts have not been popular with everybody.
Ney’s new book, Sideswiped: Lessons Learned Courtesy of the Hit Men of Capitol Hill, can be regarded as definitive proof of this. It is a memoir of his life as a congressman, detailing the numerous conflict of interests present in the U.S. House. One of its central figures is now-Speaker John Boehner, whose office would not only deride the content of Ney’s book, but the man himself.
In this first part of our discussion, Ney explains his views about Citizens United, whether or not corruption is inevitable, if either the left or the right is more crooked than the other, and whether he expects the power of special interests to strengthen during the years ahead.
He also tells us why he chose to resign from the House, and what role Boehner played in his decision.
Joseph F. Cotto Due to the Citizens United ruling, millions of Americans have become nervous about the influence which money plays in politics. Do you share these concerns?
Rep. Bob Ney: I knew years ago that the McCain finance reform would do nothing. Combined with Citizens United, money flows now more than ever. The super pacs also have zero transparency, no one is sure whether the PAC is to the left or right (Soros or Rove) [or] who is playing the political money game. The system is broken and needs [to be] fixed. The money race is on more than ever. Members [of Congress], and there are plenty of good ones [on] both sides, are forced into a campaign arms race.
I had a substance addiction, today the Congress has an addiction, campaign contributions and it is going to take an intervention by the public to correct it. They should be alarmed.
Cotto: Regardless of whatever legislation is set forth to regulate lobbying practices, do you believe that government corruption is inevitable?
Rep. Ney: There is no perfect system that will ever cure it. People will abuse or find a way around the system. The “powers to be,” however, owe it to the public to try more reforms.
Cotto: Activists on the left and right alike believe that the “other side” is inherently more corrupt. In your opinion, is malfeasance an equal problem on both ends of the political spectrum?
Rep. Ney: Again, many good public servants are functioning under a corrupt system. I clearly define true examples in my book, Sideswiped, in the afterword section as to real life examples of it today in Congress. Both sides can take trips, expensive dinners way beyond what Jack Abramoff dished out and I took - and they can do it legally at exotic places as long as they have a fundraiser. The revolving lobby door works with both sides. Both sides “assess” members [of Congress]‘s campaign contributions who want to seek higher positions and chairmanships.
Cotto: During the years ahead, do you expect the influence of special interest groups to strengthen? Why or why not?
Rep. Ney: I believe one day, through examples and stories of people gone afoul of the law, like myself, enough information on the situation will lead to more disgust by the public and a demand to change it. It could be done in days if the leaders of both parties simply announce they are going to make changes. I believe one day the true ability to lobby, which is good, shall be done without the follow up campaign dollars.
Cotto: Why, exactly, did you choose to resign from the U.S. House?
Rep. Ney: I resigned from running due to a deal cut with me by Speaker (then Majority Leader) Boehner in early August of 2006, to leave the election and he would find me a job comparable to what I made in Congress and raise me legal defense money so I could “put my legal troubles behind me”. Neither came through, the government soon threatened indictment or I could plea. I then decided to take the plea and resign office in November of 2006. My plea was [on] Oct 13, 2006, sentencing [on] January 19, 2007, and incarceration [on] March 1, 2007.
Far-left? Far-right? Get real: Read more from “The Conscience of a Realist” by Joseph F. Cotto
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