There is no native criminal class except Congress. – Mark Twain
The calls have been incessant again, just as they are after every election. There’s no way that the legendary Tom Collins can escape a torrent of fumbling attempts at inquiries from obviously green staffers whose last position consisted of posting more yard signs than the competition, followed by inept overtures from senior staff who make sure that I know they have worked for other senators or representatives on Capitol Hill, and by golly, the office of newly-elected senator or representative so-and-so politely but firmly expects a return call.
These are all POTS land line calls, BTW, at least on my end. Not that every staff member working for newly-arrived senators and representatives is smart enough to realize, considering the subject matter, they should be calling me on a land line. No, there have been plenty, and, truth be told, a higher percentage than usual, who think that broadcasting “Congressman Redacted understands, on the basis of a recommendation from Senator Deleted, that you have certain information regarding, ah, lobbyist relations that would be useful to Congressman Redacted, but Senator Deleted advises direct contact with you as opposed to, uh, second-hand advice…” over the radio spectrum is a good idea. It’s not. But if the latest crop of yahoos from the provinces want to alert the FBI that the new senator or representative is trying to get the real skinny on how to successfully accept bribes by contacting Someone Who Everybody Knows Knows by means of a miniature radio broadcasting device, that’s their miserable hides, not mine.
To tell the truth, however, I am tired of these constant inquiries, that inevitably follow after every election, every two years, like the oppressive Turkish-bath heat and humidity that follow every Washington thunderstorm in July. Inevitable they were, but now, I am a blogger. And it occurred to me, that with just one blog entry, I might forever banish these unwelcome entreaties, and, furthermore, enlighten everybody on the Internet as to what I tell the new senator or representative when, after an elaborate minuet, danced with their fawning subordinates, I finally speak with them in person about this issue, which burns, without exception it seems, in every newly-elected congressional breast.
First, newly-elected senator or representative, you must fully comprehend the fact that you are the one in the position of power. Lobbyist have no power, but that which they can purchase or suborn from you. Therefore, you should deal from a position of power. The lobbyist has one objective, and that is to obtain a portion of your power for the use of their clients. Remember that to sell or barter your power away to others is to betray your sacred trust to the American people, who elected you, and consequently to expose yourself to a great deal of risk.
It follows that you must sell the power that you are stealing from the American people at the dearest price you can possibly command. After all, if you do get caught, the amounts of payment and objects of barter for your power will be exposed. In short, the public will hear what you sold out for, and they will weigh it in their minds.
So, if you sold out for a dozen five hundred dollar lunches on K Street, three tickets to the Masters golf tournament, six Redskins box seats, a few trysts with escorts available through advertisements in the DC newspapers, a couple of eightballs of cocaine and ten thousand dollars, they will consider you nothing but a sleazy, disgusting, reprehensible, amoral, low-life criminal hypocrite. And they will be right!
On the other hand, if you sold out for an extended series of five-star repasts in the far-flung capitals of Europe taken during a “fact finding mission” approved beforehand by your committee chairman, a three week white shark hunt on the Great Barrier Reef while “researching” the effects of global warming, twenty VIP passes to the Summer Olympics while “investigating” steroid abuse, fifty trysts with known supermodels, all of which can be certified, in advance, as “consensual”, a kilo of cocaine found on your property, but not in your house, and ten million dollars belonging to someone, but not necessarily to you, they will suspect that you have done wrong, but – and this “but” is a very important conjunction – they will realize that they, themselves, would have done just about anything in exchange for what you presumably got, and, at the polls, they will forgive you, even if the Attorney General of the United States has you running for re-election from a prison cell.
Because here is my point, newbie representative or senator: any lobbyist worth selling your public office to should be able to guarantee arrangement of all the qualifying conditions mentioned in the previous paragraph. They should have enough established influence with Congress to ensure that your committee chairman signs off on your European junket without hesitation, enough clout with EPA, NSF and NOAA to make you golden as an expert on global warming, enough pull with Justice and the DEA to have them write letters actually demanding that you go to the Olympics to check out the steroid situation, enough contacts in New York, Paris, Milan and Hollywood to lay droves of willing, compliant supermodels at your feet, enough sources in the drug cartels and private detective companies to assure delivery of heavy weight, pure Bolivian flake in a plausibly deniable scenario, and enough moxie with the international financial machine to put at least ten million dollars in your pockets without you having to admit to a single dime of it. If they can’t, to hell with them – they are more pathetic, bush-league stumble-bums at the lobbyist game than even you are at being a member of Congress.
A necessary corollary to that conclusion is an accurate recognition of your constituents’ perception of your role in Washington, which is to bring them federal money. Never make a deal with a lobbyist that affects one red cent of the funds you carve out of the pork barrel for the folks at home. To do so would lose you the next election even if you take the precaution of selling out for the highest price. So, rape your esteemed colleagues’ constituents instead. This is a time-honored Washington tradition, and it is an eternal verity that nobody ever got anywhere shoveling sand against the tide.
Now we must consider the correct etiquette for accepting bribes from lobbyists. You must bear in mind that they, theoretically at least, could get into a lot of trouble bribing you. Respect that. Use the perquisites of your high office to obscure the purpose of meetings, or, better yet, to define them positively as “outreach,” “background study” or “legislative analysis.” Make sure that official records exist which present these excuses, which are legally protected by your Congressional privileges, in a believable fashion.
Furthermore, come to accept the fact that lobbyists are not only very well funded by their clients, but also more worldly, and, by the very nature of their profession, more knowledgeable concerning bribery. If you desire a good-looking female, male, shemale, trannie, hegirl or barnyard animal as an “escort,” don’t worry – they know where to get them. For your part, it is incumbent upon you, the incumbent, to make sure they supply the best physical prostitutes in return for your acts of political prostitution.
While experiencing what you think will fulfill you, however, it is also your responsibility not to end up on the front page of the Washington Post afterwards. So, do not, as Wilbur Mills did, take a dip with your Foxie Fanny in the Tidal Basin. Washington has more flavors of cops than Baskin Robbins has flavors of ice cream, and if any of them spot you behaving like that, they will be professionally obligated to do something about it and, subsequently, file a written report. Cops hate to write reports, so give them a break, OK? If you think the guilt of having sex with someone (or some thing) provided by a lobbyist will make you behave like a gibbering lunatic, then do so in the basement of a private hunt club in Loudon County, not downtown on the Mall.
Also, note that lobbyist themselves will sometimes offer to perform sexual favors. You must always politely refuse and insist on something better. Otherwise, absolutely nobody will respect you in the morning.
Now, we come to the subject which truly lies at the heart of the matter: cash bribes. These should, ideally, be handled through an arcane, labyrinthine transfer of funds (by means of a structure analogous to that described by my friend Morton in the previous post) through offshore corporations, foreign private partnerships, anonymously owned holding companies and Luxembourg law firms, resulting in numbered Swiss bank accounts to which only you have access. This is the way the Fortune 500 do it, and if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for a member of the United States Congress. Ideally, you will wait until after you have left office, then quietly withdraw wheelbarrows of money. Few, if any, senators or representatives can exert such patience, I know, but never trust a lobbyist who does not first propose this method to bribe you.
Nevertheless, I know that for the new senator or representative, life in Washington can occasionally require large amounts of cash on an immediate basis. If that circumstance develops, here are some DO’s and DON’Ts:
DO ask for twenties. Fifties and hundreds arouse suspicion. Also, about thirty percent of the hundred dollar bills in current circulation are counterfeit, courtesy of North Korea’s Kim Jong Ill.
DON’T drive to the bag drop in your car with the DC-issued Congressional license plates, dummy. If you are smart, you own two cars, both registered in DC, one a grand, ostentatious automobile with Congressional plates and the other a white Toyota Corolla or such-like nonentity ride equipped with ordinary plates. Use the one with ordinary plates. And all right, if you are the dummy I was referring to (and there are plenty in Congress, believe me) who doesn’t own two such cars, you have a choice. You can either (a) buy the second car described; or, (b) you can drive to Frederick, Maryland or Front Royal, Virginia, where the locals don’t give a hoot about Washington and will never recognize your name as a member of Congress and rent a car. Yes, there is a paper trail on a rental car, but if you get called on it, which isn’t likely, you can say that you had a flat during an excursion to a dinner theater, community arts center function or something, realized you were right down the road from the car rental place and didn’t want arrive before the festivities ended, so you rented a car and then came back the next day and changed the tire yourself after returning the rental. No way they can ever prove you didn’t change the tire yourself, provided you make a nasty hole in one of your tires later at home and change it yourself. Just make sure you show up at the dinner theater or arts center before the shindig is over and strike up a conversation with somebody who can alibi you in the future. Check the pressure in your spare first, or course, unless you feel like pumping it up manually in your garage. Obviously, strategy (b) doesn’t work if your name is a household word, like “Ted Kennedy.” But he’s an experienced member of Congress and knows how to handle sticky situations involving automobiles, and you don’t, otherwise you wouldn’t have your staff bothering me for advice on how to get away with being bribed.
DO check the bills for marks. If you don’t know how banks and law enforcement mark bills, go to Red Hot Johnson’s in Anacostia after 11:00 p.m., and ask for Big Dick, the back doorman. Tell him “Shizzle, yo’ momma so stupid, she go in for jury duty and get convicted.” That’s the sign. He will countersign with “What you talking ’bout my momma?” You counter-countersign with “Just that she so fat, she got backup lights on her bedonkedonk.” Then give him $100 and ask for “a markup job.” If you find any marked bills in your bribe, burn the whole pile thoroughly in your fireplace when nobody else is home and flush the ashes down the toilet, followed by two quart bottles of Drano Brand Max Gel and six bowls of water. Then avoid the lobbyist who gave you the marked lettuce like the Ayatollah avoids pork rinds and simply tap another one for a pile of clean currency.
DON’T store the cash in your home freezer, your office safe, your intern love monkey’s apartment or your car. I mean really, come on. Think how stupid you will look if you get caught.
DO arrange to receive the cash exactly at sunset, so it will be dark when you drive away. It’s the license plates, stupid.
DON’T bring a paper sack for the money. The cash will be delivered in a brief case, a gym bag, or, if it’s a really big bribe, in a suitcase. The bag man will just hand you the damn thing. Don’t be standing there with a paper sack – it make you look like a yokel and ruin your reputation with the other members of Congress.
DO take advantage of the Washington area’s extensive park system. The ideal bribe drop occurs five minutes before sunset, when all the parks close. Every park system in the area has at least a ten minute grace period before the responsible flavor of park police start looking for night activity after sunset. By the time they finish their doughnuts and coffee, you’ll be halfway back to DC.
DON’T use the overlooks on the George Washington Parkway. The Watergate gang used them, and every single one has had surveillance cameras trained on it since 1977.
DO extend courtesy to Washington’s extensive foreign diplomatic and espionage community. Scout every prospective bribe drop point at least three times before using it, and do so at the time of day you intend to use it (i.e., five minutes before sunset). If you see other well-dressed, middle aged, nervous people showing up, giving you the hairy eyeball, then, by golly, that place is taken already, and you should find another one. Don’t worry, there are plenty of places to go around. Just keep looking until you find one that isn’t already being used. Few things are more embarrassing in this town than expecting an attache case full of cool, unmarked Jacksons and getting a choice selection of Top Secret Air Force laser death ray design DVDs, a bunch of Russian nuclear bomb triggers, or a clutch of spiral notebooks presenting Al Qaeda’s latest plans for a biological attack on New York instead. Plus, who knows, if they realize at the last minute you are member of Congress, you might get kidnapped or shot – while attempting to be bribed. Not good.
DON’T delegate the setup or the drop to anyone, least of all a member of your staff. In general, if you do, they will be able to make ten times as much money as your cash bribe by selling the story of how they slavishly served you – you charismatic, scheming demon – until your evil got out of control and, in a patriotic epiphany precipitated by some trivial act on your part, transformed their souls as they saw, in a single bright, shining flash, that selling you out would make them rich and famous, yakking with Oprah while you rot in stir.
DO turn that cash around within 36 hours. Presumably, you need that wad to pay off debts from your uncontrollable gambling habit, to pay hush money on your sordid past with people you would rather the public not know about, or to pay for something similar that requires both complete secrecy and immediate and highly liquid remuneration. So get that unpleasantness taken care of immediately and get that pile of dead presidents outta your life before you see them staring back at you in 8 X 10 glossies marked “EVIDENCE.”
DON’T take real estate instead of cash. Don’t take cars, jewelry, furniture, plasma TVs, stereos, or any other merchandise instead of cash, either. Such items are highly traceable and by no means a suitable substitute for cash. Any lobbyist who offers you these things is most likely an FBI undercover agent or, more improbably, has less experience at their job than you do at yours. Either way, avoid them like poison.
DO make random checks of your cash bribe for counterfeits. At the very least, get a counterfeit-detecting marker and swipe it on the bills. An hour scrutinizing your swag for other obvious signs of funny money are a good investment against your cash payoff backfiring on you, whatever the reason for it. If you don’t know how to spot counterfeit cash, look it up on the Internet, using the computers at a public library. If you find any counterfeit bills in your bribe, burn the whole pile thoroughly in your fireplace when nobody else is home and flush the ashes down the toilet, followed by two quart bottles of Drano Brand Max Gel and six bowls of water. Then avoid the lobbyist who gave you the fake semolians like Kim Jong Ill avoids sanity and lean on another one for a pile of real money.
DON’T deposit cash bribes in a bank, even in a separate account, even under a pseudonym. No kidding, you might as well just turn yourself in. Look, you’re a member of Congress, not a scumbag pimp, cheap crack dealer or some shady stolen-goods fence. No, those people have connections to launder suitcases full of dirty twenty dollar bills. You don’t. And you don’t need them, either, because the lobbyists that want to bribe you are supposed to provide funds laundering services for members of Congress. If you find yourself holding a huge sum of small, unmarked bills from a lobbyist, it should be because you asked for that and have an immediate use for it. Otherwise, have your lobbyist launder the money for you. If they can’t, then find another lobbyist who can and sell out to them instead.
Finally, in conclusion, may I advise every new member of the House and Senate, that if you can’t eat the lobbyists’ fancy food, swill their expensive drinks, travel on their extravagant junkets, get totally blasted off their illegal drugs, screw the “escorts” they procure for you, take their bags of money; and then vote any way you damn well please afterwards, you don’t deserve to be a member of Congress.