Table of Contents
What is Bribery?
Bribery refers to the illegal act of offering, promising, or providing something of value (e.g. money, privileges, gifts) in order to influence the behavior of government officials and gain undue advantages.
The offeror and the recipient can be criminally charged under the federal statute 18 U.S.C. 201 – Bribery.
DID YOU KNOW?
In FY 2019, 76,538 bribery cases were reported to the U.S. sentencing commission. The median loss for these offenses was $41,390.
Legislators and regulators should prioritize the interests of the greater public rather than corporate or moneyed interests. Bribery corrupts the legislative and regulatory processes that must be (or at least strive to be) fair and equitable for all.
The Wide and Diverse World of Bribery
Bribery comes in diverse forms and does not necessarily carry the same negative stigma that it has in the U.S. In reality, no globally accepted definition, law, or penalties exist.
This is demonstrated, for one, in the differences between certain countries’ campaign finance laws. Cash donations to political campaigns in the U.S., while regulated, are actually protected under the First Amendment. And while some groups have condemned the view that cash donations count as free speech, legal precedent says otherwise. The Brazilian Supreme Court, on the other hand, outright banned corporate donations to election campaigns in 2015.
In certain countries, bribery is so commonplace it’s simply tolerated and sometimes even considered acceptable. For example, in 2011, BBC reported on the prevalence of ‘petty bribery’ throughout Indian life and the online whistleblower effort, named I Paid A Bribe (IPAB), to combat this corruption. Swati Ramathan, one of the co-founders behind the effort, is quoted in the report: “Bribery is routinely expected in interactions with government officials…to register your house, to get your driving licence, domestic water connection, even a death certificate.”
Unfortunately, in some countries even with laws prohibiting bribery, it is normalized or even expected behavior in everyday life. These illicit practices can permeate a nation’s government from the bottom to the top and even extend well past a country’s borders.
Up until the enactment of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in 1977, it was actually standard practice for U.S. corporations to bribe foreign officials in order to obtain or further business. To this day, companies in some European countries can write off bribes as an expense on their tax returns. The World Bank estimates that foreign bribery alone generates over $1 trillion in spending annually.
Investigating and Legislating Against Bribery
Authorities can often find it quite difficult to catch those involved in bribery, as bribes can be presented as tips, presents, favors, donations, or countless other forms of completely legal exchanges.
To prove that either bribery or an attempt at bribery has occurred, officials need to provide some (if not all) evidence of the following:
- A direct link connecting the bribe to a change in the actions of the official
- Intent to influence an official’s legislative or regulatory decisions (known as ‘corrupt purpose’)
- Both parties have understood and agreed the arrangement
Investigators can often experience difficulties sifting through the layers of misdirection concealing a bribe. Another recurring trouble investigators experience is correctly identifying whether a given arrangement is a case of bribery or extortion. In other words, determining if the official offered their services in exchange for something of a value (a.k.a. extortion) or received the proposal without solicitation (a.k.a. bribery).
Lawmakers can face trouble when trying to define the scope of bribery in legislation. They might limit bribery to cases where money or property is exchanged or include any case where any kind of benefit or advantage is exchanged. The latter is the much more common option around the world, but due to its broad scope, it comes with much interpretive leeway. Depending on how you interpret the law, most legislative and executive compromises could even be considered criminal.
Is Bribery a Victimless Crime?
Much like many other white-collar crimes, bribery does not have the visceral, frightening quality that many street crimes do. You won’t see violence or damaged property, but the monetary and psychological damages of bribery (along with other white-collar crimes) far exceeds the harm caused by street crimes.
You and most other law-abiding, honest citizens are victims. It just doesn’t feel like it, perhaps.
From an economic perspective, bribery hinders growth because it promotes rent-seeking behavior. Rent-seeking refers to when an individual or corporation attempts to get a bigger share of the GDP (i.e. a country’s economic production) without increasing their own contributions. So in an economy fraught with rent-seekers, you have market participants focusing on getting a bigger share, instead of competing and innovating to better society.
What could that mean for you? Well, higher price tags. Even for essential goods such as medicine. To the point where they can become unaffordable to those who desperately need them.
As we mentioned earlier in the article, lobbying and donating to political campaigns are all legal in the U.S. But the thing is, the line between lobbying and bribery is a thin, if not sometimes nonexistent, one.
Money mucks up the whole system.
According to a 2019 joint investigation by USA Today, The Arizona Republic, and the Center for Public Integrity, the language of at least 10,000 different bills was almost entirely copied from legislation drafted by special interest groups.
Jimmy Williams, a self-proclaimed ex-lobbyist, published an article on Vox recounting a dubious dealing he had while representing the wine and spirits distributors:
“I was asked to leave my clients in the lobby for the time being. When I entered his [member of the Nevada delegation’s] office, he stood up and shook my hand, and then asked me point blank: “Jimmy, we’ve called your PAC fundraiser on numerous occasions, and she hasn’t returned our calls. So why exactly are you here for a meeting?”
“He held in front of me a call sheet with the times and dates both he and his fundraiser had called us for donations. They were highlighted in yellow. And my only response was, “I don’t know, Congressman, but I’ll take care of it.” He told me he hoped so and then said I could bring my clients into his office. They walked in, we sat down as if nothing had happened, he said he supported every one of our pertinent legislative issues, and then we all shook hands and walked out. Now this guy is no longer a member of Congress, but he supported my clients’ interest — and the legislation my clients wanted eventually passed the House and Senate and was signed into law.”
Can you really trust that your representatives really have your best interests in mind when they need to generate campaign funding most of the time? Do you really believe lobbyists, while exercising a right, do not ever abuse it? Is it not possible that corporations are rigging the economy against the public?
How YOU Can Help Eliminate Bribery
The online whistleblower effort to eliminate petty bribery in India has proven quite successful, with anonymous participants posting their grievances for the community to see. As of June 2017, IPAB has worked with 30 other countries to establish replica IPAB sites and begin an international Crowdsourcing Against Corruption Coalition. Advancements in technology have provided us with the opportunity to band together and eliminate bribery and other rigged behavior from U.S. politics and the economy.
The Zero Theft Movement, promoting the tenets of open data, provides a safe and independent platform where you and your fellow citizens work together to investigate and debate potentially rigged areas across the economy. Through blockchain voting, the way to make all your work permanent, public, and unchangeable, you decide whether (1) theft is or isn’t occurring in a specific area of the economy, and (2) how much is being stolen or possibly saved. Through direct democracy, we can collectively decide where the problem areas are and start working on addressing them systematically.
The Zero Theft Movement does not have any interest in partisan politics/competition or attacking/defending one side. We seek to eradicate theft from the U.S economy. In other words, how the wealthy and powerful rig the system to steal money from us, the everyday citizen. We need to collectively fight against crony capitalism in order for us to all profit from an ethical economy.
Terms like ‘steal,’ ‘theft,’ and ‘crime’ will frequently appear throughout the article. Zero Theft will NOT adhere strictly to the legal definitions of these terms (since congress sells out). We have broadly and openly defined terms like ‘steal’ and ‘theft’ to refer to the rigged economy and other debated unethical acts that can cause citizens to lose out on money they deserve to keep.