In Politics and Bribery, Neither Party Has Clean Hands
As the 2012 election approaches and politics is very much in the air, Ive been spending some time looking at the records of both Democrats and Republicans on bribery and on antibribery initiatives. Today, well address the bad news with two recent and egregious cases; tomorrow, well follow with some good news.
Anyone who has done an antibribery training session abroad knows how disarming it can be to start with the admission that every country suffers from bribery. Yeseven the United States. Audiences never respond well to opportunities to be lectured on their problems. But they welcome the sense that everyone is in this together, and they will lean forward conspiratorially if the speaker goes so far as to discuss U.S. officials incarcerated for briberyofficials sitting in jail right now.
Sadly, there is always fresh material for such discussions. Over the last two decades, nationwide prosecutions of public U.S. officials for bribery or other corruption offenses have totaled 20,285. Two very recent cases demonstrate that corruption has no particular party affiliation.
In the Red Corner: Randall Harold Cunningham
Known to most as Duke, Cunningham had a distinguished career in the U.S. Navy before becoming one of Americas more infamous politicians. A Republican, Cunningham was an eight-term congressman for Californias 44th district. He was a member of the appropriations and intelligence committees and was known for his frequent off-color remarks aimed at women and homosexuals. He took a tough stance on drug offenses, coining the slogan Death to Drug Kingpins, until his sons conviction for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute landed him in the courtroom, teary-eyed and begging for leniency. Cunningham co-sponsored the No Frills Prison Act in 1995, but may have regretted it by 2008, when he found himself behind bars and, presumably, longing for a few frills.
While in Congress, Cunningham parlayed his position as a decorated war veteran into political influence. He also used his personal and business connections to defraud the government and enrich himself. At about the same time that a defense contractor purchased a home from Cunningham at an inflated price, the Congressman began channeling lucrative contracts to the contractor. Cunningham made similarly corrupt arrangements with other contractors and drew up a bribe menu on an official embossed Congressional memo cardparallel columns represented millions of dollars in defense contracts, and the amount (in thousands of dollars) that Cunningham expected to receive in exchange.
Cunninghams fraudulent asset transfers and bogus defense contracts came under suspicion in 2005. He pleaded guilty to charges of tax evasion, conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud, and wire fraud, and was sentenced in 2006 to over eight years in prison, the longest sentence ever received by a former Congressman . . . until William Jefferson.
In the Blue Corner: William Jefferson
Unlike Cunningham, who was described by friends in Congress as no rocket scientist, William Jefferson, a Democrat from New Orleans, graduated from Harvard Law School and received an LLM in tax law from Georgetown University. He rose quickly in Louisiana politics and served nine terms in Congress. But in August 2009, he was convicted of using his position on the trade subcommittee of the Houses ways and means committee to enrich himself and his family. After a six-week trial, the jury agreed with prosecutors that Jefferson had solicited bribe money from oil companies, communications companies, and other businesses seeking to obtain contracts with African governments.
Like the general public, the jury was captivated by the description of the $90,000 in cash found carefully wrapped in aluminum foil in the freezer of Jefferson's Washington D.C. home. Jefferson claimed that he had been keeping the money there for safe storage. It was allegedly given to him by a businessman from Kentucky and was intended as a bribe for the vice president of Nigeria.
Jefferson was found guilty of 11 counts of bribery, racketeering, and money laundering. And since one intended recipient of Jeffersons bribes was a foreign official, he also earned the distinction of being the only U.S. congressman to be charged under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Actalthough on this charge he was ultimately acquitted. Jefferson was sentenced to 13 years in prison, topping Cunningham's sentence by over four years. He began serving his sentence in federal prison in May of this year.
These two menand the thousands of legislators whose crimes we have not discussedare in turn amusing, pathetic, and infuriating. But there is also good news here. We know about these cases, and both Cunningham and Jefferson are sitting in jail today. Our enforcement authorities pursued, our judicial branch prosecuted, and a jury of peers convicted them. In both cases, the convictions occurred while each congressmans party was in the White House. That doesnt startle U.S citizens, but it can prompt passionate discussion in training sessions about why these men werent able to abuse their influence to avoid prosecution, or pay off investigators to look the other way, or get judges to help stack the deck.
If an antibribery training sessionat home or abroadbegins with an admission that no country or community is immune from bribery, it can at least end with the conclusion that no country or community need tolerate it.
Alexandra Wrage is the president of TRACE, an antibribery compliance organization offering practical tools and services to multinational companies. TRACE offers several antibribery training resources to members and non-members including the training DVD, Toxic Transactions: Bribery, Extortion, and the High Price of Bad Business. TRACE recently launched TRAC, a publicly accessible platform that establishes a global standard for baselines due diligence and makes the information available to companies at no cost.
See also: "Tracking Obama and Romney's Top Corporate Contributors," CorpCounsel, October 2012.