Branded by TIME magazine as “The Man Who Bought Washington,” Jack Abramoff went to prison for four years. But the system Abramoff so expertly exploited for years really hasn’t changed. In fact, the Philadelphia Inquirer opined in 2011 that “the lobbying that’s happening now makes Jack Abramoff look like Mahatma Gandhi.”
The Inquirer wasn’t specifically talking about Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller. But it could have been.
The problem — as pointed out recently by Adam Laxalt, Miller’s Republican opponent in the attorney general race — is that Miller, over the years, has accepted more than $70,000 worth of gifts from lobbyists and others who are also now contributing big money to his campaign.
Yes, Miller reported the gifts. But that’s not the point. The point is the Rule of Reciprocity, as explained in Prof. Robert Cialdini’s excellent book on human nature titled, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.” An excerpt…
“The rule says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us. If a woman does us a favor, we should do one in return; if a man sends us a birthday present, we should remember his birthday with a gift of our own; if a couple invites us to a party, we should be sure to invite them to one of ours. By virtue of the reciprocity rule, then, we are OBLIGATED to the future repayment of favors, gifts, invitations, and the like.”
And if you don’t think lobbyists and other influence peddlers know all about the Rule of Reciprocity, I have a nice lakeside cabin up on Yucca Mountain to sell you.
To avoid even the appearance of corruption, Abramoff rightly proposed in his autobiography that “Not only should lobbyists be banned from contributing to officials’ organizations and campaigns, they should be banned from gift giving as well.” Any gift. Of any size. Disclosed or not.
To his credit, Laxalt has publicly declared that if elected he will refuse to accept any and all gifts; not because anyone who accepts a gift is necessarily corrupt, but because at the very least it presents “a perception problem.” As such, Mr. Miller should adopt the exact same policy. Consider this advice just a little “gift” from me to him.
Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a non-profit public policy grassroots advocacy organization. He may be reached at email@example.com.