The United States has long been a world leader in its efforts to combat bribery and corruption, and there are countless examples, large and small, of investigations and prosecutions of public officials and those involved in corrupting them. Given the federal system of government in the United States, the legislative framework for combating corruption and the related enforcement efforts exists at the local, state and federal levels. The US federal government, however, and in particular the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), have special roles in addressing public corruption.
Today, those federal agencies have at their disposal a wide variety of federal public corruption offences, ranging from a very broad federal bribery and gratuity statute (18 USC Section 201) to more focused legislation such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 (FCPA). The principal statutes addressing bribery and corruption are discussed in Section II.i, although there exist a large number of government agency ethics rules, local and state laws and regulations, and election and campaign finance laws that are largely beyond the scope of this chapter.
The Biden Administration in particular has placed increased focus on combating corruption. On 3 June 2021, President Biden issued a memorandum declaring corruption as 'a core United States national security interest' and directing interagency coordination to develop a presidential strategy to combat corruption.2 In December 2021, the White House issued the 'U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption', which was the first whole-of-government strategy of its kind.3 The strategy places 'special emphasis on the transnational dimensions of the challenges posed by corruption, including by recognizing the ways in which corrupt actors have used the U.S. financial system and other rule-of-law based systems to launder their ill-gotten gains'.4
At the same time, as we discuss in the Preface to this publication, the US has been confronted in recent years by an extraordinary challenge to its Constitution, the rule of law and its democratic institutions. The efforts to hold accountable those involved in seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 US presidential election, including former President Donald Trump and those involved in the 6 January 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol, present an extraordinary test of the strength and resilience of US laws and institutions at every level – federal, state and local. While these accountability efforts will play out over years, and will be the subject of great scrutiny by historians and common citizens, it is against this profound backdrop that we provide an overview of the US anti-corruption legal framework.