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Jack Abramoff Offers Crash Course in Combating Corruption

Jack Abramoff

During the event, Jack Abramoff was presented with a USF T-shirt.

What can USF students studying government relations learn from “the most evil lobbyist in Washington”? 

As it turns out, a lot.

Disgraced super lobbyist Jack Abramoff — the man at the center of one of the biggest government corruption scandals in recent history — gave a lecture to 75 USF students, faculty, and staff on June 6.

“There are few people on the planet who are more qualified to discuss lobbying than Jack Abramoff,” said Alex Clemens, a lecturer in the Master of Public Affairs and Practical Politics Program (MoPA). “He reached the highest pinnacle of the American lobbying industry and also fell the furthest. He knows it from the inside. He knows how ethical and unethical people operate in the system.”

Clemens, who founded San Francisco public affairs firm Barbary Coast Consulting, invited Abramoff to speak to students in his Lobbying and Governmental Affairs class. The event was also open to the USF community and the public.

In his talk, Abramoff recounted his now-legendary lobbying exploits as one of K Street’s highest paid powerbrokers. Abramoff’s candid description of the congressional underbelly, a marketplace where political favors were bought and sold, was eye opening for Davi Lang MoPA ’13. 

“I had no idea the extent to which money was involved, with sporting events and schmoozing,” Lang said. “The system is broken, and it needs to be fixed.”

Abramoff says that for a long time he believed what he was doing was right. It took a very public fall from grace and 43 months in federal prison for conspiracy, aiding and abetting, and tax evasion for him to take a hard look at himself.

“The person that knows they’re doing wrong has a chance to stop. The guy who thinks he’s doing right is never going to stop,” Abramoff said. “Had this not happened, I would be doing it right now.”

Since being released from prison three years ago, Abramoff penned a tell-all book, “Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington CorruptionFrom America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist” and has become a vocal advocate for congressional reform. He travels around the country giving talks and interviews. He says he’s been asked pretty much everything — until Lang took the microphone. She had read Abramoff’s book and noticed the lack of women in it. 

“Do women lobbyists face certain obstacles that men lobbyists do not?” she asked.

Abramoff paused. “I’ve never been asked that. That’s an interesting question,” he admitted. “I never thought about this before and shame on me for not thinking about it, but I think women are at an immense disadvantage in the lobbying game.” 

He later added that he believed that having more women in the political process would make the system less corrupt. 

For many of the students, hearing Washington’s most vilified lobbyist speak so openly about his past gave them an understanding of just how complex and tricky addressing corruption is.

“I think it was a really unique event for them because it’s someone who’s been on what we think of as the evil side of politics and lobbying. There’s something that goes on in your mind when you’re looking at someone who you think of as bad,” said Jelena Hasbrouck MoPA ’12, a lecturer in the Master of Public Affairs and Practical Politics Program. “It’s illuminating that there’s a lot more to public affairs and politics than good and evil.”

Written by Monica Villavicencio »email usfnews@usfca.edu | Twitter @usfcanews