There have been those in some quarters who have attempted to dismiss the Jack Abramoff scandal as an inside the Beltway issue that doesn’t matter to “average” Americans. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In my experience, it’s true that voters really don’t care about campaign finance scandals or issues like that, despite how much emphasis the media puts on these matters. Any campaign I worked on that involved some component of political financial scandal by either of the candidates never actually materialized as a concern of the voters.
That’s because voters just assume that all politicians are, in some way or another, corrupt. So when candidate A accuses candidate B of taking too much money from this Big industry or that infamous person, it really doesn’t work as a smear. In fact, one could argue (as I have for my clients) that the candidate who tries to smear the other candidate with that kind of attack is now vulnerable of the charge of “running a negative campaign”, a criticism that actually concerns voters.
So doesn’t the argument that the Abramoff scandal is an inside baseball story make sense? No, not at all. First of all, this scandal isn’t very complicated. This isn’t Iran-contra or Whitewater in that the offense here is clear cut…uber-lobbyists spent millions of dollars on legislators, who in turn acted in a way beneficial to the lobbyist’s clients. Even if they are not found legally guilty, they are already guilty in the court of public opinion.
More importantly, the Abramoff scandal is a case of politicians getting treated as if they are better than ordinary citizens, and that is something voters cannot stomach. Politicians can fleece the country for billions of dollars for Haliburton or pass tax cuts for the ultra-rich and get away with it because the issues are too complex for voters to understand.
But when you tell a voter that Representative #1 got to fly to Scotland to play gold at St. Andrew’s, then helped out the lobbyist who paid for the trip, that’s simple enough for a voter to understand…and condemn. It’s a bite-size scandal that isn’t so heavy as to overwhelm a voter.
As for the Abramoff scandal’s impact in Florida, it’s not monumental, but just look at the volume of stories: Lobbyist Abramoff completes second half of guilty plea in Miami, Abramoff pleads guilty to bogus purchase of SunCruz Casinos fleet, Abramoff admits guilt in Miami, Abramoff admits fraud in deal to buy SunCruz gambling ships, Abramoff sets off a scramble, Politicians unloading links to Abramoff, Lawmakers shun lobbyist’s backing, Florida notables linked to Abramoff, Foley ‘shocked’ by prospects of Abramoff scandal, Putnam: GOP must fight complacency, scandals, Bush, lawmakers returning and donating Abramoff-related contributions
Those are all from today’s papers and they are an indication that the media is going to prosecute this story until Election Day. Voters will not have the chance to forget about this story.