Blog — John Cornyn

July 29, 2011

Public Corruption Bill Passes Out of Committee

By Jeremy Miller

With the “debtpocalypse” stranglehold grinding Capitol Hill to near total dysfunction, it’s hard to find good news these days in Washington, but yesterday the Senate Committee on Judiciary approved the “The Public Corruption Prosecution Improvements Act” (S. 401) in unusual bipartisan fashion.  This crucial legislation contains much-needed reforms to provide the Department of Justice with the tools necessary to prosecute public corruption.  

CREW continues to be a leading voice in Washington calling on Congress to pass this legislation in response to a series of court decisions that have eviscerated some our nation’s most important prosecutorial tools in fighting corruption.  At a time of acrimonious partisanship, we vigorously applaud Chairman Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Cornyn (R-TX) for their determined efforts to shore up our corruption statutes.

As followers of CREW are no doubt aware, one year ago in Skilling v. United States the Supreme Court substantially reduced the Department of Justice’s ability to charge public officials with committing the crime of honest services fraud.  The Court’s decision leaves unchecked corrupt and fraudulent behavior by public officials, in cases where prosecutors are unable to demonstrate the sort of direct exchange required to prove bribery.  Most egregiously, officials who engage in undisclosed “self-dealing,” -- secretly acting in their own financial self-interest rather than in the interest of the public -- may now go unpunished.   This legislation, much like the House version, restores the honest services provision so that such conduct can again be prosecuted.

The legislation also overturns other misguided court decisions limiting the use of the illegal gratuities statute.  By reversing the Supreme Court’s United States v. Sun-Diamond Growers, the bill revives the federal government’s power to criminally charge public officials who receive gifts because of their governmental positions with accepting illegal gratuities.  In addition, responding to the D.C. Circuit’s United States v. Valdes, the bill makes clear that government officials who accept private compensation for using the powers their jobs afford them may be subject to prosecution under the statute.

Once again, CREW strongly applauds Senators Leahy and Cornyn for their perseverance and strong leadership in seeing this legislation reach the Senate floor for consideration.  We hope the House Judiciary Committee will do the same in spite of the hiccups experienced this past Tuesday.

Oh, the Sweet Irony of Politics

It’s time for both parties to come together and pass a bill to improve transparency and accountability. Read More ›

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