Image a foreign country in which a political family amassed tens of millions of dollars to their family foundation during the same general time period in which one member of the family was a powerful official in various branches of government with some discretionary authority to advance the interest of donors. A political family in which one member was, at various points over the past decade, running for the nation’s highest elected office while at the same time securing millions of dollars in speaking fees from high-profile companies.
An average American would rightly be concerned about the above activities and many would call the conduct of the political family corrupt, or at the very least raising a perception of corruption.
Yet, as highlighted over the past several months, the above political family is not from a foreign country, but describes the Clintons, including presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. As noted here: “what ought to frighten Americans is the way the Clintons mix money and power in the black box of their eponymous foundation to award themselves more of each.”
The irony is that as Secretary of State Clinton championed the U.S. crusade against foreign bribery under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) stating that the Obama administration “has taken a strong stand when it comes to American companies bribing foreign officials” and that any perceived weakening of the FCPA “would not give us the leverage and the credibility that we are seeking” on the world stage.
Yet recent revelations about the Clinton foundation and Hillary’s million-dollar speaking fees raise the question of why should business interaction with “foreign officials” be subject to different standards than business interaction with U.S. officials or political candidates? Why does the U.S. reflexively label a “foreign official” who receives “things of value” from private business interests as corrupt, yet generally turn a blind eye when it happens here at home?
These questions, sparked by recent revelations about Hillary’s activities, speak volumes about the uncomfortable truths and double standards of U.S. bribery enforcement given that the FCPA and domestic bribery laws have similar elements. (See here for the article “The Uncomfortable Truths and Double Standards of Bribery Enforcement.”).
Indeed, while Hillary was paid approximately $4.1 million in speaking fees by the financial industry, the same industry was the subject of FCPA scrutiny for alleged improper hiring practices involving the family members of foreign officials. In 2015, this scrutiny produced the first FCPA enforcement action, of what is expected to be several, as BNY Mellon agreed to pay Uncle Sam $25 million for allegedly offering paid and unpaid internships to the family members of foreign officials. (Never mind, as highlighted in the above-linked article, that Chelsea Clinton, like many children of powerful political families, has received lucrative jobs and other positions under circumstances that raise valid questions).
At the very least, Hillary has a corruption perception problem and having her in the White House would, to use her prior words when speaking about foreign corruption, lower our standards and not give the U.S. the leverage and credibility that we need in the global fight against corruption.
(Disclosure of interest: I was an intern in the Clinton White House)