Customer Reviews: Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America's Most Notorious Lobbyist
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on November 10, 2011
This book has its interesting moments, and it could have been a really good book. But listening to Abramoff brag on himself page after page after page takes so much away from the story. His self love is a major distraction. But the book is also very revealing - on two levels. One is the revelations he intentionally shares about Washington, lobbying and politics (as well as his experiences in Hollywood and with Imelda Marcos and his treatment in prison). The other is his unintentional revelations as to what kind of person he is. You can't read this book without seeing him for the narcissist he is. To hear him tell it, most people are self-serving, lazy, greedy and bad - everyone but the people he loves like Tom DeLay and his other "friends." From his perspective, he's generous to a fault, kind, godly, and is smarter and works harder than anyone. Anyone who has ever worked on Capitol Hill or in politics will very quickly see through Abramoff's self promotion.

Don't get me wrong. This book is interesting and telling at times (such as the way he portrays Ralph Reed, experiences with members of Congress, battles like the one he had with movie producers who set up shop outside his restaurant, etc.), and I don't regret reading it. But this is not a five-star book, and I really don't understand the unconditional raves for this book or the fact all reviews before mine were five star. A couple of them don't even sound like they read they same book I read. But read the book and judge for yourself. I noticed that this is the first review ever posted by several five-star reviewers, and it is the second or third review for all the other five-star reviewers. Also, 9 of the 12 people who reviewed this book before I did read the entire book and published their five-star rave reviews on the exact same day this book was released - November 7th. All that doesn't always mean anything, but I find that information helpful when deciding whether to purchase a book that seems to get all rave reviews. The subject matter is what makes this book interesting, but the writing and the writer prevent it from being a great book or anything more than a three-star book for me. The three stars (instead of one or two) is for the information and for tackling a subject not many people have taken on.

Even with all the scandals he has been involved with that I already knew a good bit about, I never disliked Abramoff until I read this book. Quite the contrary, in fact. I liked the fact he has taken on and called out some people in power who need to be called out. But reading this book changed my impression of him for the worse. He is truly unlikable, but he's completely unaware of that fact. In fact, he appears to possess no self awareness. He preaches about the evils of Washington and talks as though he is the voice of reason and justice. He's hypocritical and transparent, and it takes away from the good points he does make. Early on he tells a story about being SO shocked when a Congressman wanted to trade votes in order to get a project in his district, but then he does things that are horribly worse than that without batting an eye. He never had a problem with anything until he got into trouble and even now his preachiness seems so self-serving. And he is constantly referencing how devoutly religious he is. He clearly missed the Commandment to "have no other god before Me" because there is so much self-worship in his book. He says, "The charitable giving was good for my soul, but it soon became something of an addiction." Spending money (and finding new and creative ways to make it) seemed to be his real addiction.

Additionally, there is no big message in this book about how to fix government. In the very last pages of the book he does list his dream reforms (which is his first and only attempt at discussing reform of any kind). Some points he makes are very valid, but others make no sense and would only serve to place more power in the hands of fewer people. And if Abramoff had his way, someone who was a paid intern for Congress when they were in college or worked as a district staffer in his/her 20s could never lobby for the rest of his/her life. I find this ironic considering Abramoff never worked a day in Congress, and yet he was one of the worst offenders when it came to ethics violations and corruption. But that is one of his "solutions" to the corruption that he represented in Washington. Also he'll gush (literally) about Tom DeLay and his total disdain for President Clinton because DeLay can't tolerate any dishonesty, but then Abramoff makes excuses when President Bush lies about knowing him or even meeting him. He lacks consistency in the judgment he is so quick to dispense. Abramoff also strongly criticizes Senator McCain for being a narcissist while remaining completely blind to his own narcissism.

His book does show a lot of what is wrong with politics and government - and Abramoff was a big part of that. But this book is simply Jack Abramoff's side of the story. It's no great message of redemption. If you love politics or have a strong interest in it or in government, this book is definitely worth a read. However, do not expect it to be full of deep insights because he's not a deep thinker. His story is one that needs to be heard because a lot of it has not been covered by the mainstream media (and it really needs to be), but I believe his story would be better told by someone else in the form of a biography as opposed to being spun by self-absorbed him in an autobiography. I don't question his facts, just his focus. I think his self-centered presentation could make it easier for his detractors (as well as the people who didn't want to be called out) to discredit the valid points he makes.
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on December 14, 2011
This is my first review for Amazon, but after reading the big difference in opinions about Jack Abramoff's book, I wanted to add my thoughts. After watching Abramoff on 60 Minutes and the Colbert Report and other shows, I decided to read his book. I found him more appealing on those television shows than I did in this book. Reading his book did not leave me with the same favorable impression I got from watching his interviews.

I don't understand reviewers who bill his book as a cure for what ails politics. Jack Abramoff and people like him are what's wrong with politics. He can blame it on the system all he wants and act like his working within this system or his working the system were simply a reflection on the political system and not on himself, but he would be wrong. The bottom line is that the majority of people serve and work in the political system without being corrupt like Jack Abramoff was or without corrupting others as he says he did.

I also don't know where people are getting that his book is one of great repentance or contrition. I didn't get much of that at all. Instead I got that he would prefer to blame the system rather than truly examine himself and accept blame for his consuming greed. I'm not saying there aren't reforms that need to take place in politics. Of course there are. I'm just saying that even with reforms, corrupt people like Jack Abramoff would still exist. They exist in all fields of work. There are bad apples in every profession.

Abramoff wants people to think that his book is an indictment of the political system, but really it is an indictment of himself. Some of these reviews that fawn over him and talk about how he has the cure for what ails politics are giving him too much credit. Some actually sound like Abramoff wrote them himself. Abramoff had plenty of opportunities while working in Washington to do the right thing. Instead, he chose the path of greed and exploitation, and by writing his book he yet again is trying to cash in. There's nothing wrong with his cashing in after his release from prison, but let's not make him out to be something he's not. He seems to be the same person he was before. Only now no one will hire him to lobby for them, so he's looking at other ways to make a living. That doesn't make him an altruistic do-gooder. It also doesn't make him an expert on doing the right thing or an expert on how to fix Washington like some would have you believe.

I found some of his post-prison suggested reforms to be insulting because most wouldn't even affect the laws that allowed him to do all the corrupt things he did. Other of his reforms wouldn't even work because they are so obviously unconstitutional. He overreaches in a lot of his reform ideas and claims they would protect the public from people like him. No system can protect people from people willing to break the law. Criminals will exist in any system, and that's what Abramoff was. If the system was different, he would have found another way to get around it.

The fact his reform list does not include banning convicted felons from lobbying tells you all you need to know about his reform ideas. Not that I'm for punishing people who have served their time forever, but if he so sincerely wants to fix the system, then why not start with himself? He's a master at pointing fingers at everyone but himself. I also found the fact he tossed his reform ideas in in the final pages of the book to be insulting. How can anyone call this book a cure for what ails politics when he barely mentions reforms and he only includes them in the last few pages of the 330-page book?

"Capitol Punishment" is the story of Abramoff's life. It is not a cautionary tale other than the fact it should caution people about not being so greedy. It's an easy read, which is why I gave it two stars. He's not a bad writer. But he's no expert on how to fix Washington anymore than a bank robber is an expert on how to reform Wall Street. He's lived an interesting life. From his childhood in Beverly Hills, his becoming an Orthodox Jew, his Young Repub days and his work in Hollywood to his friendship with Imelda Marcos, his days is Washington, his time in prison and more. He definitely has not led a boring life.

I believe his time in Hollywood would have lasted a lot longer if he had been able to make more money. If his Hollywood ventures had been more successful and filled his deep need for greed, I think he might never have ended up working as a lobbyist. Greed is a great motivator for him. I think that's the main reason he got involved in so many different ventures -- restaurants, casinos, movies, etc. After seeing several interviews with him, I'm glad I read his book because it gave me greater insight into him than television did. While I did find his book an entertaining enough read, I didn't find it anything more than that. Maybe if it hadn't been oversold as something it's not, I might have liked it more.
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on January 8, 2012
In short: The addage "I was born at night, but not last night" has to apply in this case. I purchased this book not knowing much about Mr. Abramoff or the scandals that he was notorious for and, generally speaking, felt that he was probably treated unfairly in the past 6 or 7 years or so. Having read this book, from his point of view, I'm fairly confident that Mr. Abramoff is a bit of an unsavory character and probably deserves much of the criticism he's gotten.

This book seems to try and redeem him. He acknowledges that he did wrong and that he should pay for his offenses. However, he glosses over some of the more egregious topics covered (Suncruz), readily points the fingers at others, portrays himself as more religious than the Pope, and, perhaps most perplexing, expects the reader to suspend common sense. When the author spends so much time and energy providing details about benign / useless events and conversations and then skips through seemingly big parts of the story, the suspicion I think rightly points to the fact that there's a lot more there than meets the eye.

This book, I think, is just a means for the author to make money. I can't help but think of Kevin Trudeau. I feel sleezy having contributed to this guy's pocket (and this, from someone who politically sees the world the same way). If I can dissuade someone from buying this book to save yourself the same feeling - all the better. I've never written a review before, but having read this book, feel pretty passionately that anyone contemplating should satisfy themselves with some decent fiction.
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on November 30, 2011
I read this book not knowing what to expect. I found it witty, humorous, educational, and easy to read. I learned a great deal about the operations of our government. One item which I learned that I had never focused upon was a reason which Jack gave for our present day predicament, and the reason dates back to the 1913 Constitutional Amendment which allowed for the direct popular election of Senators as opposed to their election by their state legislatures as had been previously done. I knew this historical fact, but I never appreciated the far reaching ramifications that this has had on the dimunition of states' rights.
There are many such observations, and I, therefore, strongly recommend this book. I hope Jack gives us a sequel of about 1,000 pages since I am sure that he must have hundreds of great stories with many fascinating details that were not included in this book.
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on August 2, 2014
OMG! I couldn't get through because it seemed to me it was all about Jack patting himself on the back. I mean, I knew he would try to slant things in his favor but jeeezzuuss gimmee a break. What a creep.
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on November 30, 2011
Very informative book on a very disturbing topic. As a US Citizen and taxpayer, it is very unsettling to know that this entire system of dishonesty and bribery exists and is very active in the Congress. Mr. Abramoff has actually done us a great service by revealing this crooked enterprise. The book is generally well written; the chapter detailing the author's incarceration is especially emotional. People make all kinds of mistakes in their lives; it seems that Mr. Abramoff's book is part of his attempt to make amends for his past actions. A very informative and smooth-flowing read.
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on September 22, 2012
When you read "Capital Punishment" by Jack Abramoff, ask yourself one question: " what did Abramoff go to prison for that most of Congress shouldn't have been there with him? Influence peddling has been going on since this country was founded. The only difference between what Abramoff did, and members of Congress are still doing, is that he did it better than most. Am I excusing criminal behavior???? No, but I advocate equal punishment for ALL offenders. Abramoff very thoughtfully gives you his take of the seedy side of politics, that most all politicos play in at one time or another. Many prosper, and a few do get caught, but not nearly enough. Abramoff's journey from a desire to achieve a certain agenda to his fall and disgrace is spellbinding. This book rips away the fog of secrecy that most in Washinton D.C. don't want you know about. This book is a tell all about who Congress really works for. Excellent read!
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on March 26, 2014
Read this for the understanding you can get about how people who think of themselves as moral and responsible human beings can evolve into more degenerate versions via rationalization and single-minded focus. If you can get past his somewhat warped perspectives, the book is also very revealing about many of the slimier details and characters in Washington, D.C.

Abramoff seems to plead for understanding throughout this autobiography. Unless you are a driven "Type A" person with an "ends justifies the means" philosophy and conservative political leanings, it is nearly impossible to feel much sympathy for him.

If he had put as much effort into self-examination in his actions as he did into the actions themselves, he might not have run afoul of the law -- at least as far as that is possible in the political morass that is national politics. If he had put similar effort into questioning his own political beliefs, he might have been a more sympathetic figure as well.

Perhaps we are somewhat lucky that he failed the way he did. Given some of the causes and people he supported, we could have been worse off if his successes hadn't ended in such a dramatic fashion. He ends with some recommendations for reforms. A few of them would help but there is little realistic chance that they would pass without "escape clauses." He acknowledges that but doesn't go so far as to suggest that major systemic changes in government and the political process will be necessary to clean up corruption. Perhaps that is because he believes that such changes are even less likely to occur.

The writing is only fair in quality and I would advise buying this book used unless you can get a great price on a new one.
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on November 13, 2011
I just finished Capitol Punishment and after seeing the promos for his TV book on 60 minutes I was hoping to get some insight on politics and the sale of influence on K street. Instead I got a narcissistic apologia from a criminal participant in the process who is more interested in telling us what a great guy he is and not very interested in providing us lessons, insight or balance. What a surprise from a cooked lobbyist!!

The book goes on and on in boring detail about Jack's hard working, up from Beverly Hills existence and struggle to power as a leader of the college Republicans. A three page summary of that journey would be an interesting background about American politics and maybe give us some idea of how we got to where we are. Instead, we get a boring and repetitive self-serving tale about how Jack's fight for conservative values was important, consistent and motivated by a desire to make the United States better by returning it to its Constitutional roots.

According to Jack, he is really a misunderstood hero, who made a few mistakes along the way, but those mistakes were only the result of brief errors in judgment, betrayals by cynical former allies, the press, and treacherous maneuverings of political opponents whose motives were not as purely conservative and Constitutional as those which motivated Jack to serve the country.

Although Jack does admit that the interconnection of money and political leads to corruption. His suggestions for reform remind us of one of a one page internet email forwarded by a friend with different political beliefs, but without the time to think or analyze things for himself.

I would imagine Jack hopes that true conservatives will read his book; realize he was always fighting the good fight; and let him back in the fold. I would hope his chosen audience will read his drivel and realize just how thin and self-serving Jack's story is and try to reach across the aisle for solutions rather than slogans while lining their pockets like Jack.

The real problem with the book, as indicated above, is that it is boooring. It boggles my mind that a story that involves international travel, movie making, political intrigue, front page news and scandal, can be so dull. As an author, Jack should go back to lobbying.
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on December 19, 2011
As a longtime observer of the political process, I was intrigued to see that disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff was out of prison and had written an apparently "tell-all" book. I first heard him on 60 minutes talking about the "revolving door" - how easy it is for senior lobbyists to entice senators, congressmen, and their staff (particularly their chiefs of staff) with the prospect of a job in lobbying after they're ready to move on. With this golden opportunity dangling before them, the powerful person on Capitol Hill was sure to do your bidding so long as they remained in power. (Lobbyists earn far more money than staffers, and the later control access to elected officials.)

In the 60 minutes segment, Abramoff sounded contrite. He now wanted to help reform the process, he said. Fight for term limits ("Washington is a dangerous place"), close the revolving door (make it illegal for public servants to later pursue K street employment), and make it illegal for lobbyists to give anything of value to power brokers (not even a glass of water, let alone campaign funds, or a lucrative job offer). All this made me want to read the book.

Abramoff is an engaging writer, and the book kept my attention, even though I didn't have much interest about his experience in leadership with the College Republicans, or his time making movies overseas (the latter being irrelevant to the book's theme). He described his first experience with Beltway corruption: A congressman offered to deliver him thirteen votes in exchange for getting a military base in his district. (The GOP White House immediately gave him the military base.) Later, Abramoff describes how he began to encourage his clients to reward elected officials who helped promote their causes with generous contributions:

"The quid pro quo became one of the hallmarks of our lobbying efforts....there is no question that contributions have a significant impact on the process-and that impact is not positive. What I did not consider then, and never considered until I was sitting in prison, was that contributions from parties with an interest in legislation are really nothing but bribes. Sure, it's legal for the most part. Sure, everyone in Washington does it. Sure, it's the way the system works. It's one of Washington's dirty little secrets-but it's bribery just the same" (p. 90).

What I liked most about the book were these frank revelations, pulling back the curtain as it were and showing how pervasive money is in the garnering of influence. Specifically, Abramoff shares how he exploited tax loopholes to encourage his Indian clients to give enormous sums of money to politicians, securing influence, but also establishing Abramoff as a major player. I wish the author had more carefully explained when, precisely, his ambition led to his breaking the law. But the overall message of the book seems to be that it doesn't really matter: the whole system is so broken, that even if many of the things Abramoff did were legal (and apparently they were), they still wouldn't be right. They still compromise our democracy and give undue influence to those with deep pockets.

And that gets me to the biggest weakness of the book. Abramoff seems to be saying, "Yes, I technically broke the law-but only because I operated in a broken system, and, in my amazing success, just pushed a bit too far." Abramoff devotes ample space to discussing how seriously he takes his Orthodox Judaism, how charitable he was--how even when he earned obscene amounts of money, he was enormously generous (founding schools, helping others with business ventures, etc.). In other places, Abramoff touts his accomplishments in detail, and even seeks to "set the record straight"--downplaying his guilt here, explaining the purity of his intentions there. All this, I'm sad to say, makes the book come off as more of a victory lap than a bid for redemption.

The truth is Abramoff ripped off a bunch of people, over-sold and over-billed his services, and recklessly disregarded the rule of law. Why? Because he could, and because it expanded his power. He was more ambitious for himself than his country. He charged his client obscene fees because he could -- after all, he "owned" the congressmen who alone could help the clients. His extravagant receipts allowed him to purchase more influence, and the vicious circle continued, ever-widening to more elected officials. Abramoff, even now, seems too high on himself, too proud of the Abramoff Empire that once was. And insufficiently humbled for how he abused his opportunity to influence the process for good. Consequently, his chapter on what reforms should be pursued--potentially the high-point of the book--had some good ideas, but was disappointingly superficial.

All an all, a worthwhile read for those interested in the political system -- but take the self-aggrandizing parts of the narrative with a large grain of salt.
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