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June 15, 2011

Chamber of Commerce Wants Greater Freedom to Bribe

By Jeremy Miller

Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), a criminal statute that prohibits corporations from bribing foreign officials abroad for the purpose of obtaining international business opportunities.  The pervasive sentiment among members of the committee who attended and a decidedly lopsided witness panel was that the U.S. business community is withering under the over-criminalization of corrupt behavior by an oppressive Department of Justice (DOJ). 

Yes, you read that right.  Under the guise of “reforming” and “modernizing” the FCPA for a competitive global economy, the Chamber of Commerce is determined to weaken this critically important anti-corruption statute.  Let’s be clear, however:  efforts to do so are nothing short of a tacit endorsement of bribery and unethical behavior. 

It remains unclear whether the efforts to weaken the FCPA will be fruitful, but with a very Chamber of Commerce-friendly cadre in the current Congress, the threat is real.  Accordingly, CREW and other organizations such as Global Financial Integrity are fighting back. 

Vigorous enforcement of the FCPA is critically important. The World Bank estimates that more than $1 trillion in bribes is shelled out each year, amounting to approximately 3% of the world economy and a roughly 20% tax on foreign investment.  Moreover, bribery undermines the integrity of foreign governments by encouraging inappropriate policy decisions based on the size of the bribe rather than the needs of the public. And to state the obvious, it’s unethical.

Yesterday’s hearing exposed exactly how hollow the criticisms of the FCPA really are. We encourage you to watch the clip in which Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) took to task former Attorney General Michael Mukasey -- now undoubtedly highly compensated to represent the Chamber of Commerce -- for suggesting ignorance of the law should shield corporations from accountability (just for the record, we have a hard time understanding how anyone wouldn’t know that bribery is illegal). Rep. Conyers then asked another witness to provide just one example of over-criminalization by the DOJ when it comes to enforcing the FCPA.  She could not.

The fact is the so-called “reforms” pedaled by the Chamber of Commerce would only encourage corrupt business practices and subsequently tarnish the image of the U.S. abroad.  The U.S. has long been a leader in combating bribery and the world is following our lead.  We won’t have much moral authority to complain about corruption in other countries if we knowingly allow American businesses to enable corrupt practices.

You can read CREW’s response to the Chamber of Commerce’s criticisms of the FCPA here, submitted for the record at yesterday’s hearing.

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