[FORUM]Golf: an indispensable lobbying toolTom Delay, 59, was the second most influential figure in the U.S. political arena. As a House majority leader, he exercised nearly as much influence as President George W. Bush. He resigned from his position as majority leader and is currently under investigation.
Mr. Delay is an avid golfer. The person who ruined him was his best friend, a lobbyist named Jack Abramoff, 47. Golf was an important medium that deepened their friendship; a golfing excursion was one of the things that brought them down in the end. Mr. Abramoff invited Mr. and Mrs. Delay to the St. Andrews golf course in Scotland in 2000. Saint Andrews is the game’s home and sacred ground, where international rules are decided. To golfers, it is a dream course. The trip cost them $70,000.
Mr. Delay resigned from his position last September, as public opinion over his golf trip worsened while political funds linked to Mr. Abramoff were raising suspicion. Delay said at that time that he committed no fault and would resign as floor leader for a while, to prove his innocence. He said he had paid for some of the expenses for the trip and that his support groups took care of the rest. That was a lie.
Mr. Abramoff had paid the expenses. Early this year, Mr. Delay donated $57,000 to charity, claiming that the money was from lobbying funds he had received from Mr. Abramoff. When Mr. Abramoff, who was under investigation, offered a plea bargain, President Bush and other lawmakers donated the money they had received from him to charity organizations.
(A plea bargain is a system in which a suspect admits his guilt and cooperates with prosecutors in exchange for a lesser jail sentence.)
Mr. Abramoff was the most prominent lobbyist in the United States. His influence was such that even summit talks could be held through his intercession. Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, for instance, said he gave $1.2 million to Mr. Abramoff in appreciation for arranging his meeting with President Bush in 2002. Mr. Abramoff’s clout came from his ties to the real power-holders in the Republican Party. Among them, he was the closest to Mr. Delay, frequently keeping him company on upscale golf courses. In an interview with Vanity Fair for its April issue, Mr. Abramoff said, “When I met Delay, I discussed golf, opera or the Bible, that is, philosophy and politics. I did not spend much time lobbying for specific matters.”
Golf is a very efficient sport for socializing. It is indispensable for politicians and lobbyists. It is the proximity and privacy among players that makes golf good for socializing. If a lobbyist plays golf with a politician, with whom he would normally have at most 10 minutes of conversation, he can talk with him for as long as four hours. No one can hear what they are talking about, because they are alone on a vast field. The more high-class a golf course is, the more privacy its golfers have. A lobbyist is bound to befriend a politician, even if he discusses philosophy.
Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan is also known as a keen golfer. We cannot blame him for being keen on a sport he learned belatedly for his health. His golfing trips on Independence Movement Day, March 1, became a problem because he is the second most influential person in the present administration, yet played with people who needed to lobby him and did not pay the expenses himself.
When criticism poured out from the press at the beginning of the scandal, Mr. Abramoff protested, calling it “Kafkaesque.” His argument was that it smelled of an ambiguous and ominous conspiracy. Mr. Lee and his golf partners may in their hearts want to protest the way Mr. Abramoff did, but as suspicions grew over the golf scandal, the people began to feel disappointed. Even if those involved do not offer a plea bargain, disclosing the truth seems to be the only solution.
* The writer is the culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Oh Byung-sang