Neil Volz has been many things — Hill staffer, lobbyist, convicted felon, government witness, documentary character, janitor.
Now he is trying to become an author.
Volz, a former top aide to then-Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and member of the Jack Abramoff lobbying team, recently finished a five-year book project. His manuscript, a memoir titled “Into the Sun: Diary of a Washington Lobbyist,” is in the editing process. He expects to self-publish it this year.
He describes his book as a cautionary tale, a “tell some, not a tell all” about his involvement in one of Washington’s most notorious lobbying scandals.
It’s an attempt to settle some scores — though he declined to elaborate — but mostly to find healing and redemption. He’d also like to make money on it, but he figures he’s at least as likely to lose cash from the project.
Ney, who served prison time for his role in the Abramoff scandal, said he hasn’t yet read his ex-staffer’s memoir but has discussed it with him.
“It’s not a ‘revenge’ book,” said Ney, who is executive director of the new Ohio-based nonprofit Mending Minds Foundation, which promotes mediation as a therapy for stress and substance abuse. “It’s more about the personal level about him, what he went through. It’s important to learn from your past mistakes.”
He added that “maybe for Neil it is therapeutic to write a book. For me, I don’t know if it would be.”
Volz pleaded guilty in 2006 to helping Ney solicit gifts from Abramoff and providing things of value to Ney after he became a lobbyist. He was sentenced to two years of probation for violating his one-year lobbying ban and for conspiracy to commit honest services fraud.
Volz was a college dropout who moved to the nation’s capital in January 1995 as part of the Republican revolution, or as Volz calls it, “Tea Party I.” His first job was as Ney’s press secretary.
“I remember writing op-eds blasting Democrats for their ties to the lobbying community,” Volz said in an interview Tuesday. “I was a Rush Limbaugh-listening, George Will-reading, Kool Aid-drinking true believer.”
He still considers himself a right-winger, he said, but his aspirations are far from D.C.
“My professional goal is to be an author, teacher and community leader here in southwest Florida,” Volz said. “My goal is not to rent new office space on K Street.”
An impetus behind the memoir was Volz’s grandmother, who died during the height of the Abramoff scandal. He promised her, a former librarian, that he would write a book. It was something she had long encouraged him to do.
And he’s had a book in his head for a long time.
“I actually put a proposal together, when I was part of team Abramoff,” he explained. “I was looking at writing a book about the 10-year anniversary of the ‘Contract With America.’ But there didn’t seem to be an upside to me, as a lobbyist, writing a book about the positives and the negatives of what the Republicans had done. That wouldn’t help my business.”
Volz calls his 380-page memoir factual. “I tell the story like I would tell it to a good friend,” he said. “But it’s not under-oath factual.”
“Part of why I wrote the book, I want my family and the people around me to feel proud of my service to the public again,” he said.
He added that he is deeply ashamed of his role in the scandal and has taken on the cause of homeless people at the Lee County Homeless Coalition.
In the foreword, he writes: “What inspires me more than anything is the thought that this story might teach a young person or aspiring leader to avoid flying into the sun by reading how I had burned myself years before. Likewise, if I can shed some light on the Byzantine business of Washington lobbying and its impact on our nation, so much the better.”
Ney, who returned in December from a three-month trip in India where he met the Dalai Lama, said that neither he, Volz nor the others involved in the Abramoff scandal are the “caricature” they have become.
“We didn’t only sit around at Jack’s restaurant nine hours a day trying to decide how to help Jack Abramoff,” Ney said. “Neil, like anybody else, is a human being, and these things affect people. I think this is kind of putting things behind him.”