Attempts to control corruption have a long history in the United States. Since the late 19th century numerous laws have been enacted at the federal, state, and local level to end patronage and nepotism in government employment, control conflicts of interest by public servants, and reduce opportunities for bribery and kick-backs. Although the current corruption landscape differs from that of 20th century America, policymakers considering anticorruption legislation today can profit from a look at the U.S. experience.
A useful, if sobering, place to start is with Professors Frank Anechiarico and James B. Jacobs’ 1997 analysis based on New York City’s century long effort to combat corruption supplemented by the federal government’s more recent experience with ethics laws. Useful because the authors analyze many of the same interventions now commonly advocated to combat corruption around the globe: conflict of interest legislation, financial disclosure requirements for public servants, whistleblower protection, the creation of inspectors general, the reduction of officials’ discretion. Sobering, not only because they conclude these reforms have done little to combat corruption, but also because the authors contend that together these laws have contributed to the current dysfunctional state of American government. In short, they say, America’s effort to suppress corruption has produced little benefit at great cost.