Tracking Corruption and Conflicts of Interest in the Trump Administration–August 2020 Update

Back in May 2017, this blog started the project of tracking and cataloguing credible allegations that President Trump, and his family members and close associates, have been corruptly, and possibly illegally, leveraging the power of the presidency to enrich themselves. The newest update is now available here. As has been true for the past couple of months, most of the newest items relate to the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, including further evidence that federal bailout money has flowed to businesses owned or closely connected to President Trump’s family and cronies, and White House pressure to include in the next coronavirus relief package an unrelated $1.75 billion for the renovation of the FBI headquarters building located across the street from Trump’s D.C. hotel. One item, though, actually concerns events that took place over two years ago, but were only disclosed this past month: Apparently the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, acting at President Trump’s request, tried (unsuccessfully) to use his influence to get the British Open held at Trump’s Scotland golf course.

As previously noted, while we try to include only those allegations that appear credible, many of the allegations that we discuss are speculative and/or contested. We also do not attempt a full analysis of the laws and regulations that may or may not have been broken if the allegations are true. (For an overview of some of the relevant federal laws and regulations that might apply to some of the alleged problematic conduct, see here.)

New Podcast, Featuring Danielle Brian

A new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. In this week’s episode, I interview Danielle Brian, the Executive Director of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a U.S. civil society watchdog organization that focuses on investigating, exposing, and preventing government corruption, fraud, and waste, and more broadly lobbies for systemic reforms to improve accountability and integrity in the U.S. government.

The interview begins with a conversation about POGO’s history and current work, and discusses POGO’s somewhat “hybrid model,” which combines investigation work on specific cases with a broader policy reform agenda. Ms. Brian provides, as an encouraging example of how groups like POGO can have a positive impact, POGO’s work in promoting significant reform in the regulations governing payments to oil and gas companies. She describes the case study as a useful illustration of a successful advocacy campaign, but also emphasizes that one of the lessons from this and other cases is that genuine reform takes time and requires patience. We then turn to several other challenges that anticorruption advocacy groups like POGO face, including how to maintain a reputation for nonpartisanship and how to balance the interest in engaging with the government and publicly criticizing the government. Ms. Brian and I also touch on a number of more specific issues, including concerns about corruption in the allocation of coronavirus relief funds, questions about whether or how to frame lobbying or other influence activities as “corrupt,” and the so-called “revolving door” problem.

You can also find both this episode and an archive of prior episodes at the following locations:

KickBack is a collaborative effort between GAB and the ICRN. If you like it, please subscribe/follow, and tell all your friends! And if you have suggestions for voices you’d like to hear on the podcast, just send me a message and let me know.

One other note: KickBack will be going on holiday in August, but we’ll be back with a new episode on September 7.

Anticorruption Bibliography–July 2020 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. As always, I welcome suggestions for other sources that are not yet included, including any papers GAB readers have written.

New Podcast, Featuring Franz von Weizsäcker and Niklas Kossow

A new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. In this week’s episode, my collaborators Nils Köbis and Christopher Starke interview Franz von Weizsäcker (from the German Agency for International Development (GIZ)) and Niklas Kossow (form the Hertie School of Governance) about how new technologies, particular distributed ledger technology like Blockchain, can be used to curb corruption. Franz and Niklas first describe how they became interested in this topic and then, after providing a basic introduction to how distributed ledger technology works, they discuss both the opportunities and the challenges associated with deploying these new technologies to curb corruption.

You can find this episode here. You can also find both this episode and an archive of prior episodes at the following locations:

KickBack is a collaborative effort between GAB and the ICRN. If you like it, please subscribe/follow, and tell all your friends! And if you have suggestions for voices you’d like to hear on the podcast, just send me a message and let me know.

Tracking Corruption and Conflicts of Interest in the Trump Administration–July 2020 Update

Over three years ago, in May 2017, this blog started the project of tracking and cataloguing credible allegations that President Trump, and his family members and close associates, have been corruptly, and possibly illegally, leveraging the power of the presidency to enrich themselves. The newest update is now available here. As was true last month, there are relatively few new items this month, in part because other issues (especially but not exclusively the coronavirus pandemic) have dominated the news. And indeed most of the notable new issues related to concerns about corruption and conflicts-of-interest in the Trump Administration relate to the coronavirus response. For example concerns that the administration has been steering relief funds to companies connected to Trump and his allies have been exacerbated by the administration’s efforts to block oversight of how these funds are spent. For example, the Treasury Department refused to share information about beneficiaries of certain business relief programs, and the Small Business Administration (SBA) has also provided federal officials and their families with a blanket exemption from the conflict-of-interest review that would otherwise apply when business owned by these individuals apply for coronavirus relief funds administered by the SBA.

A previously noted, while we try to include only those allegations that appear credible, many of the allegations that we discuss are speculative and/or contested. We also do not attempt a full analysis of the laws and regulations that may or may not have been broken if the allegations are true. (For an overview of some of the relevant federal laws and regulations that might apply to some of the alleged problematic conduct, see here.)

New Podcast, Featuring Asoka Obeysekere

A new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. In this week’s episode, I interview Asoka Obeysekere, the Executive Director for Transparency International’s Sri Lanka chapter (TI-SL). Our conversation covers TI-SL’s various approaches to combating corruption in Sri Lanka, including both “retail” legal aid efforts to assist individual citizens in dealing with corrupt bureaucrats, as well as efforts to secure broader legal and institutional reforms, as well as broader cultural change. On that latter subject, the interview also covers the system of corruption in Sri Lanka, how corruption has become normalized, and whether an dhow attitudes about corruption can be changed. We also discuss how TI-SL, drawing inspiration from a civil society initiative in Ukraie, has compiled its own registry of Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) using publicly available, and how the creation of such a database can be helpful in detecting suspicious activity and exposing potential wrongdoing. The interview concludes with the advice Mr. Obeysekere would offer to other civil society leaders operating in similarly challenging environments on how they can be most effective in advancing an anticorruption agenda.

You can find this episode here. You can also find both this episode and an archive of prior episodes at the following locations:

KickBack is a collaborative effort between GAB and the ICRN. If you like it, please subscribe/follow, and tell all your friends! And if you have suggestions for voices you’d like to hear on the podcast, just send me a message and let me know.

New Blog on Police Corruption and Accountability

These past several weeks, protests in the United States and around the world have brought much-needed scrutiny to the problem of police misconduct. While the main focus of attention has rightly been on issues related to systemic racism and police violence, rather than police corruption (narrowly defined), concerns about police misconduct relate to important themes that the anticorruption community has long emphasized. Indeed, as I discussed in my post a couple weeks back, there are intriguing and troubling similarities in the organizational-cultural characteristics associated with corrupt firms and abusive police departments. And perhaps some of the lessons learned from institutional reform strategies designed to combat corruption can help inform approaches to reforming law enforcement agencies more generally.

I’m not the right person to lead that conversation, since I lack the relevant expertise, but I’m happy to announce a new addition to the blogosphere that will focus on these issues. The CurbingCorruption project (which I’ve mentioned earlier), which already featured a section on fighting corruption in the law enforcement sector, has launched a new blog called Trusted Policing. According to the official description:

Achieving Trusted Policing requires changes to laws and to police institutional practices to stop corruption, brutality, racism and harassment. It requires leadership of change not only from protesters but also from those in positions of responsibility – the police themselves, elected officials, public officials, whether in government, law enforcement agencies – and those who analyse and live the problems – academics, not-for-profit organisations, grass-roots reformers, police committees. The purpose of this blog is to contribute to one small part of this massive improvement challenge: to serve as a source and a repository for good experience and constructive proposals for police improvement from around the world.

The blog is brand new and only has a handful of posts so far, but those posts are quite interesting, and I think this may be a useful forum for those interesting in engaging in dialogue at the intersection of anticorruption reform and policing reform more generally.

Anticorruption Bibliography–June 2020 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. As always, I welcome suggestions for other sources that are not yet included, including any papers GAB readers have written.

New Podcast, Featuring Irio Musskopf

A new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. In this week’s episode, my collaborators Nils Köbis and Christopher Starke interview Irio Musskopf, a Brazilian software engineer who co-founded and developed an open-data anticorruption project called Operation “Serenata de Amor, which uses artificial intelligence algorithms to analyze publicly available data to identify and publicize information about suspicious cases involving potential misappropriation of public money. Mr. Musskopf discusses the background of the project,the basic statistical approach to detecting suspicious spending patterns,the reasons for relying exclusively on public data (even when offered access to non-public information), and some of the challenges the project team has encountered. The conversation also discusses more general questions regarding the role that intelligent algorithms can play in anticorruption efforts, including questions about whether and where such algorithms might be able to supplant human analysis, and when human decision-making will remain essential..

You can find this episode here. You can also find both this episode and an archive of prior episodes at the following locations:

KickBack is a collaborative effort between GAB and the ICRN. If you like it, please subscribe/follow, and tell all your friends! And if you have suggestions for voices you’d like to hear on the podcast, just send me a message and let me know.

Guest Post: Special Journal Issue on Corruption in the Developed World

Today’s guest post is from Fabrizio Di Mascio, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Turin.

Much of the discussion of the corruption problem focuses on developing countries. This focus is understandable, given that corruption is a much more pervasive, or at the very least more visible, in the developing world. Indeed, some have suggested that corruption will tend to disappear as countries become wealthier and as democratic institutions are consolidated. Yet while it may well be that (crude) corruption tends to decline as countries develop, the evidence suggests that corruption remains widespread in developed countries, including mature democracies. To better understand both the characteristics of corruption in the developed world, and the mechanisms that might help combat that corruption, the open-access academic journal Politics & Governance recently published a special issue (which I co-edited) on “Fighting Corruption in the Developed World: Dimensions, Patterns, Remedies.”

After an introductory editorial, the special issue includes eight articles, all of which are available for download for free: