If It Looks Corrupt, It Is Corrupt

In combatting corruption, how much conduct should be prohibited? This lively issue, implicated in the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent controversial decision in McCutcheon, is relevant to those drafting reform legislation worldwide. There are two different starting points for analysis. The first approach (call it the traditional view) aims to eliminate only “actual” corrupt behavior: the FCPA, for example, requires that to violate its anti-bribery provision, an act must be done “corruptly.” The second method bans acts that create the appearance of corruption: in the United States, for example, this standard governs the behavior of federal employees and federal judges (except the Justices of the Supreme Court).

My position is that anticorruption law should adopt appearance-based rules that prohibit behavior and relationships giving rise to a (reasonable) appearance of corruption. Under traditional thinking, these laws might be deemed too over-inclusive. However, this post highlights two crucial insights missing from the traditional calculus:

(1) The appearance of corruption creates a real harm to society, independent of the harm from “actual” corrupt behavior; and

(2) Recent empirical work shows that maintaining appearances is important: a decline in the public’s trust in government brings forth an array of nasty behavior from citizens.

Continue reading

More on Compliance Certification–A Response to TRACE International

In a recent post, which built directly on a report from Transparency International USA, I raised some questions about the value of the compliance program “certifications” that certain private firms offer to provide.  (In a follow-up post, I also expressed even greater skepticism about current efforts to generate an International Organization for Standards (ISO) anti-bribery compliance program standard.) I won’t repeat everything in the original post here, but to summarize quickly: I expressed concern that “certifying” a compliance program (as distinct from reviewing and assessing it) could prove counterproductive because (1) the certification would not (or should not) be treated as significant by government enforcers or third parties, and (2) the certification might lead companies either to do too little or too much.

TRACE, one of the leading firms that offers compliance certification services (and also, through a separate but affiliated nonprofit, provides anti-bribery compliance support to member companies), has provided a thoughtful, thorough, and enlightening response to my post on the TRACE blog. The TRACE post takes issue with my criticisms, and also uses my post as an opportunity to “address head-on some common assumptions and misunderstandings that … surround anti-bribery certifications.”

I highly recommend that readers interested in this debate — which TI-USA deserves credit for kicking off — read TRACE’s post; I won’t try to summarize it here.  Let me say a few words about where I think we actually agree, then highlight what I think are the most significant points of disagreement, and then highlight one particularly intriguing aspect of the TRACE post that may deserve more extensive consideration. Continue reading

The Perry Indictment: Not So Farfetched

Texas Governor Rick Perry was indicted August 15 for engaging in what most Americans think of as politics as usual — or at least usual as practiced in Texas.  Perry was charged with abuse of office and coercing a public servant because he threatened to veto funding for an anticorruption unit attached to the Travis County District Attorney’s office unless DA Rosemary Lehmberg resigned.  Lehmberg, a Democrat, had been convicted of drunk driving and a video of her inebriated while in police custody had gone viral.  As Perry explained in vetoing the legislation after she refused to step down, he could not “in good conscience support continued State funding for an office . . . at a time when the person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit has lost the public’s confidence.”

While Democrats saw a darker motive in Perry’s threat, the chance to replace a Democrat who had been a thorn in Republicans side, few think his threat was illegal.  The Washington Post and New York Times editorial pages, neither enthusiastic backers of Perry’s firebrand Texas conservatism, both sharply questioned the indictment as did President Obama’s former top political adviser David Axelrod.  Veto threats are part of the everyday give-and-take between governors and state legislatures and between Presidents and the Congress.  Indeed, as recently as the 2013 confrontation over the shutdown of the federal government President Obama used the threat of a veto to get his way with the  Republican Congress.  How can that be illegal?   And if it wasn’t, why is Perry’s?

But before politicians write the Perry indictment off as farfetched, they best consult a lawyer.  Continue reading

UNODC’s Academic Anticorruption Initiative (ACAD)

The good folks over at the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), along with Professor Nikos Passas at Northeastern University, launched an “Anti-Corruption Academic Initiative” (ACAD) about three years ago. (I was fortunate enough to be able to attend ACAD’s most recent meeting last November in Panama, as well as a conference on teaching anticorruption courses last week in Vienna.) The initiative is still a work in progress, but UNODC has created a useful webpage for ACAD as part of the TRACK system, with links to an assortment of papers on different topics (a bit haphazard, but nonetheless useful). One of the things that came out of the Panama meeting was the need for those of us who teach, or hope to teach, courses on corruption and anticorruption in university settings to exchange syllabi and other course materials; the ACAD website may eventually become a repository for such materials. I recommend checking out their website. In addition, the TRACK website also includes a “legal library” with a list of (and links to!) anticorruption laws from many different countries.  A very useful resource.

Procedural Safeguards and Corruption-Resistant Institutions

Rick has blogged previously about how disclosure programs and transparency measures alone will not solve public sector procurement corruption.  Though these measures may be better than nothing, releasing information accomplishes little unless there are mechanisms in place with the resources to review it, corroborate it, and act on red flags.

Continue reading

Guest Post: Compliance, No Science

Liz David-Barrett, the Director of the Oxford Centre for the Study of Corruption and Transparency, contributes the following guest post:

More and more countries are introducing and enforcing anti-bribery laws these days, as governments implement their commitments under the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and the UN Convention Against Corruption.  By making companies liable for prosecution if they pay bribes to foreign public officials, the drafters hope to persuade companies to stop paying bribes and take measures to ensure that no bribes are paid on their behalf.  But do they work?   What do companies do when faced with a new anti-bribery law?

The United Kingdom since the introduction of the Bribery Act is a good laboratory for researching this question.  Passed in 2010, the Act came into effect only in July 2011.  But companies had ample time to prepare, given the prolonged hype as the Bill was debated in parliament. Some companies were — and still are — in denial, perhaps because they think they are not at risk, or the chances of being caught are slim. At the other end of the spectrum, some companies concluded that the Bribery Act created such serious legal risks that they opted to withdraw from certain high-risk markets entirely. But the vast majority of companies have responded to the Bribery Act by introducing or reforming their anti-bribery policies — that is, by amping up their corporate compliance programs.  So what have we learned so far from research on UK firms’ anti-bribery compliance programs? Continue reading

Updated Anticorruption Bibliography

An updated version of my anticorruption bibliography is available from my faculty webpage.  Now with over 3,000 sources!  A direct link to the pdf is here.  As always, I welcome suggestions for other sources that are not yet included, including any papers GAB readers have written.