Thursday, November 18, 2010

Guiding Words

FCPA reform proposals circulating on what seems like a weekly basis.

Claims that the FCPA is bad for business.

Questions about how the FCPA enforcement agencies resolve matters.

In some circles these valid and legitimate questions or calls for reform are being met with claims that some want to weaken the FCPA and pave the way for corporations to go on a bribery binge.

Within days of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sponsored piece (here - I will do a separate post on this in the near future) various commentators assailed mere discussion of reforming the FCPA as being pro-bribery.

For instance, Keith Olbermann began his October 27th MSNBC Countdown program as follows: "The plot to buy America. U.S. Chamber of Commerce job one: It wants the Congress it thinks it‘s going to buy to roll back enforcement of the anti-bribery Foreign Corrupt Practices Act." Later in the program Olbermann noted: "The Chamber of Commerce—the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the biggest secret right-wing ad buyer, today released a report calling for weakening the FCPA. What the hell‘s that? The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which punishes American businesses for bribing officials overseas. Quote, “Unfortunately for the business community, an active FCPA enforcement environment appears likely to continue.” The chamber wants to make it easier for American companies to do business with corrupt officials, even, quote, “in countries where many companies are state owned, e.g., China.” Later in the program, Olbermann stated as follows: "I mentioned the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and this call on the new Congress to make it easier for rich Americans to bribe officials overseas and then get away with it if they‘re caught—which seems to sort of represent part of the American spirit, in a bizarre way."

It is unfortunate that any discussion of examining and perhaps reforming the FCPA, or more importantly FCPA enforcement, is met in some circles with naive and reactionary claims of being "pro-bribery."

In many ways, we are back to the 1980's.

In 1980, Congress set about amending the FCPA. The FCPA, at that time: contained a broad "reason to know" knowledge standard as to indirect payments to "foreign officials;" no affirmative defenses; and no express facilitating payment exception.

It took Congress eight years to wrestle with the issues and the FCPA was finally amended in 1988.

In 1981, Senator Alfonse D’Amato opened Senate hearings on a bill to amend the FCPA. He stated that the bill "provides us with a good opportunity to assess the effect of recently enacted legislation and its implementation.” Senator D’Amato noted as follows. “The discussion which takes place during these hearings is not a debate between those who oppose bribery and those who support it. I see the major issue before us to be whether the law, including both its antibribery and accounting provisions, is the best approach, or whether it has created unnecessary costs and burdens out of proportion to the purposes for which it was enacted, and whether it serves our national interests.”

In an opening statement during Senate hearings, Senator John Chafee, a leader in the FCPA reform movement stated: "We've learned a great deal about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in the last three years. We've learned that the best of intentions can go awry and create confusion and great cost to our economy."

During the hearing, Senator Chafee further stated as follows: "Critics have attempted to characterize my bill as a signal to U.S. companies that they can return to the 'bad old days' of foreign bribery. That is not my intent, nor should it be the signal. I abhor bribery, whether domestic or foreign, but I also dislike confusion. Thus, my bill will eliminate uncertainty while maintaining strong prohibitions against bribery. The ambiguities and murkiness of the bill's language have caused U.S. companies to withdraw from legitimate markets and contributed to the decline in the U.S. share of world exports. We need to end this confusion."

During Senate hearings, Senator D'Amato noted as follows: "The thing that bothers me about this kind of a debate is that we tend to posture this thing as if somebody were for or against bribery. I think it is important to state for the record that bribery of any foreign official by any U.S. concern is bad for our national health, and it is something that we have got to stop, we have got to deal with, and we have, I think, gone a long way with the FCPA. What we proposed to do is to simplify that law and to make it workable so that we can set that standard in concrete from now on and not have the abuses that occurred prior to 1977, but not by stopping exports, but by stopping bribery. That is the objective."

Senator D'Amato further stated as follows. "I think it is very important that in the committee's work that we not create the attitude that this committee is making it easier for businesses to engage in illegal activity. That has, in fact, been suggested, not only by our distinguished colleague from Wisconsin [Senator Proxmire, a Senate leader in enactment of the FCPA who generally opposed the reform efforts], but also by certain journalists, who are questioning the need for proposed changes. I think that rather than hampering prosecution of illegal acts, [the reform bill at issue] would clarify and make possible just prosecution of those who engage in bribery. It would eliminate any 'gray area' by clearly spelling out the limits of the law."

During Senate hearings, Senator John Heinz stated as follows. "... There are many people that are extremist, and there are others who get carried away by their enthusiasm who are going to argue that even if we change the provisions in the present act, that are unnecessary or ambiguous or uncertain, that even though we are not doing so, we are legalizing bribery. That strikes me as the worst kind of demagoguery, because it implies that everything that Congress has done in the past is perfect. And does anybody believe that?"

During the Senate hearing, William Satterwhite (Senior VP, General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer of Enserch Corp.) testified. He began his testimony as follows: "Before I begin my comments, I would like to state for the record, Enserch Corp. is not in favor of bribery. It is a sad commentary on the political atmosphere surrounding this legislation that those who support the bill feel compelled to make clear that they do not condone corruption."

The interesting thing about these representative comments is that they occurred during an era when the FCPA was, for all practical purposes, not even enforced!

As noted in yesterday's post, we are, in the words of Assistant Attorney General Breuer, in a new era of FCPA enforcement.

Part of this new era should be a renewed effort to examine the FCPA and more importantly FCPA enforcement.

The above comments from the 1980's should serve as useful guiding words.

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