FRANKFORT, KY. — Jack Abramoff, recently described by "60 Minutes" as perhaps "the most notorious and crooked lobbyist of our time," will help teach ethics to Kentucky lawmakers during the opening week of the 2012 General Assembly.
The Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission is paying Abramoff a $5,000 speaking fee, plus expenses, to tell legislators how his corrupt actions helped him rise to the top of Washington’s lobbying world — and end up serving 3½ years in prison after pleading guilty in 2006 to corrupting public officials, tax evasion and fraud.
George Troutman, the commission’s chairman, said of the decision to have Abramoff as the featured speaker, "If you look at what this training for legislators is supposed to accomplish, I don’t think there’s anybody better on the face of the earth."
All 138 legislators are required each year to attend three hours of ethics training. This requirement was adopted as part of an overhaul of legislative ethics laws after the federal investigation known as Operation BOPTROT resulted in the convictions of 15 Kentucky legislators and six others on corruption charges in the early 1990s.
The sessions involve briefings by the commission staff on state ethics laws and recent opinions from of the commission. But they also include remarks of guest speakers.
Two years ago, for instance, the commission paid $5,000 to political scientist Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, to speak during the ethics class.
Troutman said the commission’s general counsel, John Schaaf, suggested Abramoff as this year’s main speaker after seeing the "60 Minutes" telecast in early November.
During the program, Abramoff explained how he was able to influence Washington politicians and their staff members through gifts, trips, campaign contributions and job offers.
"I did things and I was involved in the system I should not have been in. I’m ashamed of the fact I was there, and that’s the very reason why now I’m speaking about it," Abramoff said during the program.
Abramoff did not return a message seeking comment that was left with a contact person .
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said they did not know Abramoff was retained as the featured speaker for the ethics session.
"I have read some of the things Mr. Abramoff has said how he was able to illegally influence the congressional system," Stumbo said.
He said he assumed Abramoff could "inform legislators of what might be transpiring on the other end of this equation where people are plotting ways to bring undue influence on legislators. In that regard, I would say it would be very helpful."
Williams said of Abramoff, "I’ve never heard his story, so I really don’t have any comment about it."
The ethics training will take place in two 90-minute sessions Jan. 4-5. Abramoff is scheduled to speak Jan. 4.
The guest speaker for the Jan. 5 session will be Paul Prather, pastor of Bethesda Church in Montgomery County, the author of four books and a contributing columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader.
The commission is not paying Prather for his appearance, Schaaf said.