Welcome (Back) to The Jungle: Why Privatization of Meat Inspections Will Increase Corruption and Threaten Food Safety

Over a century ago, the tales of squalid meat production in Upton Sinclair’s famous novel The Jungle shocked the United States, contributing to a public outcry that ultimately led to regulations requiring a government inspector to examine every single meat carcass intended for human consumption. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s FSIS (Food Safety Inspection Service) is responsible for the inspection regime. The established assessment program requires multiple FSIS inspectors to be on-site, performing a process of continual, carcass-by-carcass inspection during slaughter. The system is far from perfect and has never been a stranger to scandal (see here, here, and here). Yet it has been seen as vital to safeguarding public health from foodborne illnesses, including e.coli and salmonella outbreaks. It is also backed by a robust legal regime designed to insulate the inspectors from bribery and other forms of improper influence.

Unfortunately, throughout its history, FSIS has faced pressure to favor in-house inspectors over government inspectors in the name of creating a “flexible, more efficient” system. The most recent experiment with limiting the role of FSIS inspectors is HIMP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point-Based Inspection Management Program), a program being piloted in a handful of pork plants and set to be proposed as a final regulation soon. (The related New Poultry Inspection System is being phased in now despite legal challenges.) HIMP uses in-house staff to conduct most of the inspections, particularly early on. A limited number of FSIS personnel do paperwork oversight and spot checks at particular points on the line.

However one chooses to balance competing calls for efficiency and safety, this is a short-sighted idea. Government inspectors and regulatory personnel are not perfect, but they are covered by anti-bribery laws and whistleblower protections that in-house inspectors are not, making them a safer bet for the safety of the meat supply. Filth and disease garner headlines, but civil society should continue to fight for an active role for government inspectors for another reason—public corruption is easier to fight than private influence. Even if one agrees that government inspectors are less efficient (a questionable proposition, despite how often it’s repeated), there are a number of laws and regulations in place designed to prevent (or expose) the corruption of these inspectors by the meat industry; there is no comparable regulatory regime in place to prevent equivalent corruption, or other forms of more subtle improper influence, from distorting the decisions of in-house private inspectors. Consider a few key areas of separation:

Continue reading

Guest Post: Fixing the Federal Definition of Bribery–From “Intent to Influence” to “Illegal Contract”

Albert W. Alschuler, the Julius Kreeger Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago Law School, contributes the following guest post:

In the United States, the principal federal criminal statute prohibiting the bribery of federal officials, 18 U.S.C. § 201(b), forbids “corruptly” offering or giving anything of value to an official “with the intent to influence any official act.” Yet, as I argue in a recent article, defining bribery primarily in terms of the payer’s “intent to influence” is overbroad. The phrase “intent to influence” not only seems on its face to reach common and widely accepted practices; it also invites speculation about motives and may produce prosecutions and convictions based on cynicism.

There’s an alternative: The American Law Institute’s 1962 Model Penal Code defines bribery as offering, giving, soliciting or accepting any pecuniary benefit as “consideration” for an official act. As a Texas court said of a state statute modeled on this provision, the Code “requir[es] a bilateral arrangement—in effect an illegal contract to exchange a benefit as consideration for the performance of an official function.” More than two-thirds of the states now embrace an “illegal contract” definition of bribery; the federal government and the remaining states should follow suit. Continue reading

Video: Columbia Law School Proxy Debate on McDonnell’s Bribery Appeal

As regular GAB readers know, we’ve had quite a bit of discussion on this blog about the case of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, and I’ve been particularly adamant in my views that the conviction ought to be affirmed. (See here, here, here, and here.) The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in McDonnell’s case tomorrow morning, and if anything interesting happens I may write about it again. In the meantime, while there won’t be a live audio or video of the Supreme Court argument, anyone who’s dying to hear some live debate about the legal argument is in luck! (Well, sort of.) A couple weeks ago the Columbia Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity hosted (in collaboration with the Columbia Federalist Society) a debate on the McDonnell case between John Malcolm, the director of the Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, and yours truly.

The full video is here. From my perspective, the most important exchange is at 47:13-50:38, where I put to Mr. Malcolm the question whether a federal crime would have been completed if the businessman (Jonnie Williams) and Governor McDonnell agreed that Mr. Williams would provide Governor McDonnell with valuable items (cash or the equivalent), and in exchange—as part of a quid pro quo—the governor would use his influence to get state medical institutions to perform expensive medical studies on the product Mr. Williams’ company produced. Mr. Malcolm concedes that the answer is yes: In that hypothetical example the “official act” element would be satisfied, so long as the quid pro quo is proved. (I make that initial point at 30:59-31:50 of the video and restate it, in the context of the adequacy of the jury instructions, at 34:57-35:32. But, again, the most important part of the exchange is at 47:13-50:38.)

To me, that concession ought to be the end of the argument. Mr. Malcolm’s argument, like that of Governor McDonnell’s lawyers, boils down to the claim that the particular steps that the governor took to try (unsuccessfully) to bring about those tests weren’t official acts (a conclusion, by the way, that I think is just wrong, but put that aside). But that doesn’t matter, because in this case there was an express quid pro quo involving a specific official act. Of course I’ve got my own strongly-held views on this. I leave it to interested readers to watch the video, and read the Supreme Court transcript once it’s available, and decide what you think.

One more aspect of the debate worth noting: In attempting to distinguish the McDonnell case from the Bob Menendez case and certain hypothetical examples I raised (see 38:53-40:25), Mr. Malcolm suggested, as a distinction, that the federal bribery statutes don’t apply if the subject of the quid pro quo is a matter that is not yet pending before the government (see 42:15-45:52 and 45:55-46:21). I didn’t have time to respond to that suggestion during the event itself, nor is it (to my knowledge) an argument that McDonnell’s lawyers have raised in their briefs, but for what it’s worth, I think the claim is inconsistent with the relevant statutes. Notably, 18 U.S.C. 201(a)(3) defines “official act” as “any decision or action on any question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy, which may at any time be pending, or which may by law be brought before any public official, in such official’s official capacity, or in such official’s place of trust or profit” (emphasis added). Seems clear to me that a promised act can still be “official” even if the matter concerns an action that is not yet pending, but that may be pending in the future, or that could be brought before an official, even if it has not yet been. I suspect Mr. Malcolm may have been improvising a bit here–neither of us had the statute in front of us or committed to memory. In any event, the difficulties in a holding that the federal bribery statutes don’t apply as long as the subject of the quid pro quo is not yet formally pending before the government at the time the bribe takes place ought to be too obvious to belabor.

Lasting Legacies: Marcos’ Denial Feeds into a Culture of Corruption

In the past several months, Philippine Vice Presidential hopeful Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. has faced a great deal of criticism for refusing to recognize and apologize for the acts of his father, Ferdinand Marcos, Sr., who, in addition to committing numerous human rights abuses against Philippine citizens during his 20-year reign as dictator, amassed an estimated $10 billion in ill-gotten wealth for himself and his cronies. Although some assets were seized after the People Power Revolution ended the Marcos regime, the Marcoses and their cronies held on to a great deal of ill-gotten wealth. (Indeed, when the new government was installed, it created an entire agency, the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), dedicated to recovering those assets.) In the eyes of many Filipinos, the Marcos name represents an era that saw billions stolen from the people, a fact illustrated by the PCGG’s recent decision to use a virtual exhibit of extravagant jewelry belonging to former first lady Imelda Marcos as an anticorruption campaign. Called the “Story of Extravagance,” it features a diamond tiara in platinum, a ruby tiara in silver, and numerous other jewels, along with descriptions of how the costs of each item could have been used to fund education, energy projects, and health initiatives.

The controversy over Bongbong’s refusal to apologize for this and other unsavory aspects of his father’s regime (including systematic human rights abuses) began last August, when the younger Marcos first asked what he should have to say sorry for, while highlighting the economic progress made during his father’s time in power. Since then, Bongbong has continued to insist that he has no need to apologize, even as criticism of his stance intensified in February, when the country celebrated the 30th anniversary of the People Power Revolution. The controversy has been further inflamed by revelations in the Panama Papers that Bongbong’s sister, Governor Imee Marcos, and her three sons were among those linked with offshore accounts. The Marcoses have so far issued no statement on the matter. In fact, not even a week after these revelations, Bongbong reiterated his stance that he has no reason to apologize for his family.

Others on this blog have discussed whether younger generations must take responsibility for the corrupt actions of their parents (see here for Courtney’s discussion of Peru’s Keiko Fujimori). In the case of Bongbong Marcos, and of the younger generation of Marcoses generally, the interesting and troubling reality is that their political careers will likely survive their outright refusal to acknowledge the corrupt acts of Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. This frustrating truth speaks volumes about the culture of impunity that plagues Philippine politics, and has troubling implications for the broader anticorruption fight.

Continue reading

Don’t Blunt the Spearhead: Why the Proposed Revision of Indonesia’s KPK Law is a Bad Idea

Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi, or “KPK”) was established in the hope that an independent anti-graft agency would effectively and fearlessly combat endemic corruption in Indonesia. True to its purposes, the KPK, in collaboration with other actors, has become one of Indonesia’s few anticorruption success stories. Since its establishment in 2003, the KPK has successfully charged 82 legislators in the parliament for corruption—a remarkable achievement in a country that has been known for the impunity of its political elite. After the appointment of its newest team of commissioners in 2015, the KPK has furthered its success in catching corrupt public officials, one of which was again a member of Indonesia’s House of Representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat, or “DPR”). It is safe to say that the KPK can indeed be deemed the “spearhead” of Indonesia’s corruption eradication efforts.

Yet, as an Indonesian proverb has it, “The taller the tree stands, the stronger the wind blows”: Attempts to weaken the KPK have grown in direct proportion to the agency’s success in bringing cases against powerful individuals and institutions. One example of this is the ongoing “Gecko v. Crocodile” struggle between the KPK (the small “gecko” with limited resources and young age) and the Indonesian National Police Force (the fierce “crocodile” with abundant power and resources), in which every time the KPK brings corruption charges against members of the Police Force, their members retaliate with criminal charges or harassment against members of the KPK. More recently, and more troublingly, members of the national parliament are now also trying to do what they can to undermine the KPK: Six out of the ten member parties in the DPR have proposed a revision of the current KPK Law–despite protests from the remaining political parties, NGOs, academics, and even the general public. Those opposed to this amendment argue (correctly) that there is no article in the revision that would increase the performance of the KPK, but instead all of the proposed revisions would undermine the KPK’s power and independence. Despite being packaged as a set of procedural improvements, the revision seeks to render KPK impotent – a strategy both subtler and likely more effective than the ham-handed tactics of the police in the “Gecko v. Crocodile” conflict.

The proposed law includes four main points of revision that proponents claim will improve the KPK’s performance. In fact, all four pose threats to the KPK’s independence and effectiveness:

Continue reading

Anticorruption Bibliography–April 2016 Update

An updated version of my anticorruption bibliography is available from my faculty webpage. A direct link to the pdf of the full bibliography is here, and a list of the new sources added in this update is here. The bibliography now contains over 5,000 sources! On the upside, that means we’ve actually got quite a lot of potentially useful research on corruption’s causes, consequences, and possible solutions. On the downside, there’s so much that it’s a bit overwhelming, and it’s not clear we, as an anticorruption community, have done a great job in distilling the lessons learned from all this research. This is a challenge I’m hoping to tackle in the coming years, and would welcome any help! And, of course, I continue to welcome suggestions for other sources that are not yet included in the bibliography.

Should Other Countries Enact a False Claims Act?

For governments looking for a cheap, easy way to curb fraud and corruption in government contracts, the American False Claims Act seems like a no lose proposition.  It authorizes private citizens to file civil suits against companies they believe have cheated the federal government, and if their suit succeeds, the citizen is entitled to anywhere between 15 to 30 percent of any damages the government collects.  The offer of a reward creates an army of volunteer investigators and lawyers willing to invest their own time and energy into ferreting out fraud and corruption.  If they win the case, the government recoups most of its losses.  If they lose, the government isn’t out a cent.  The data suggests that False Claims Act suits have indeed been a bonanza for the U.S. government.  Recoveries in recent years have exceeded $2 billion per year with an average of $1.7 billion going to the government and the rest to citizen sleuths.

Before copying the False Claims Act verbatim, however, policymakers will want to consider University of Houston Law Center Professor David Kwok’s paper on why the statute seems to work well in the U.S., why an exact copy might not work so well elsewhere, and how it might be changed to fit countries where conditions differ from those in the United States.  The paper is the third in the series of papers commissioned by the Open Society Justice Initiative on civil society and anticorruption litigation, following earlier ones on standing by GAB editor-in-chief Matthew Stephenson and on civil society litigation in India by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy Director Arghya Sengupta. As with those by Matthew and Arghya, David’s paper provides civil society activists and policymakers wanting to bolster the enforcement of anticorruption laws in their country much to deliberate on.