Are Less Corrupt Countries More Faithful Enforcers of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention?

The failure of many signatories to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention to enforce their new laws against the bribery of foreign public officials has been widely noted, including on this blog. There is no single factor that explains this lack of enforcement across the 30 or so countries (out of 41 total signatories) that have not yet seriously begun enforcing their anti-bribery laws. However, there is a fair amount of descriptive evidence about the extent to which signatories actually do so: Transparency International (TI) has, for the last nine years, released annual reports on progress, which provide a good deal of information on this level.

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The OECD Convention and Extraterritorial FCPA Jurisdiction

I suggested in an earlier post that a major reason for the increase in foreign anti-bribery prosecutions in other countries since the passage of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention is increased enforcement of the FCPA against foreign companies by the US government. In this post, I will set out, in a little more depth, one factor that contributed to bringing this effect about, namely a broadened scope for enforcement jurisdiction under §78dd-3 of the FCPA.

An important effect of the entry into force of the OECD Convention was that it provided “cover” for expansive US enforcement of the FCPA. Equally important, though, was the contribution it made in providing the legal means by which the US Department of Justice was actually able to undertake this expansion. Broader enforcement has helped to push standards for anti-bribery enforcement into convergence around the world, and has encouraged other countries to start enforcing their own laws more seriously.

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Is US Campaign Finance Law More Permissive of Corruption than the FCPA?

An odd feature of U.S. law is that it appears to impose more stringent restrictions on private donations to foreign politicians than on donations to U.S. politicians.

Consider first domestic U.S. campaign finance laws.  These laws have received a great deal of scrutiny over the last 40 years, because of the argument that restricting spending on political activities may offend the “freedom of speech” guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a number of landmark decisions on this subject over the last 40 years, beginning with Buckley v. Valeo (1976), and most recently in McCutcheon v. FEC (2014) (which Matthew discussed in a post from a few months back). The dominant trend in these decisions has been a loosening of restrictions on campaign contributions and independent donations, but one specific change in the campaign finance jurisprudence is particularly interesting. In McConnell v. FEC, the Supreme Court held that “selling access” or “influence” constituted a form of corruption, prevention of which could justify certain campaign finance restrictions. In Citizens United v. FEC, the Court, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy (citing to his dissent in McConnell), narrowed the definition of corruption “to quid pro quo corruption,” and held the “fact that speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that these officials are corrupt.”

Now consider the main U.S. statute that addresses payments to foreign officials (as well as foreign candidates for public office): the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). In contrast to the campaign finance area, there is very little case law clarifying the meaning of the FCPA’s provisions (a fact that some commentators have lamented). Nonetheless, the FCPA’s prohibition on “corruptly” giving “anything of value” to a foreign official or foreign candidate for public office for the purpose of “influencing any act or decision [taken in an official capacity]” does not require an express quid pro quo, (see 15 U.S.C. § 78dd-1(a)(2)(A)(i)).

Thus it appears that payments (including campaign donations or other forms of political support) that are intended to influence politicians’ official decisions are proper (indeed, constitutionally protected) if made in the U.S., but improper (indeed, criminal) if made in other countries.

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The OECD Bribery Convention as Cover for US FCPA Enforcement Abroad

Both Rick and Matthew’s posts earlier this week discussed the effectiveness of the 1997 OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in combating international corruption. Rick emphasizes the Convention’s success in prosecuting supply-side bribery, noting the hundreds of convictions and settlements since the Convention came into force. But as Matthew pointed out, and as the OECD itself has acknowledged, the impressive-sounding aggregate enforcement numbers mask the fact that enforcement is highly unevenly distributed: the majority of the Convention’s 40 member countries still do not enforce their anti-bribery laws effectively (if at all)–and most of the increase in enforcement that Rick highlights comes has come not from the countries that recently adopted extraterritorial anti-bribery laws, but from the United States, which has had such a law – the FCPA – on the books for more than 35 years.

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