Media Matters Action Network

Rep. Lamar Smith's Fight to Make Bribery Easier For Big Business

June 09, 2011 9:44 am ET by Brian Powell

Rep. Lamar Smith

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) seems to be taking on a surprising new cause celebre — fighting to roll back anti-bribery laws. He's using his power as the chair of the House Judiciary Committee to investigate the structure and enforcement of the decades-old Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and according to his staff, Smith intends to parrot FCPA reform suggestions written by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the foremost financial backers of the GOP.

The FCPA was enacted in 1977 to prohibit "U.S. firms from bribing [foreign] officials to win or maintain business." Enforcement of the act under the Bush administration was exceptionally low — in 2004, the Department of Justice charged only two persons under the FCPA and only five were charged in 2005, for a total of $27.5 million in fines.

The Obama administration has since stepped up enforcement efforts, levying more than $1 billion in fines in 2010. Predictably, DOJ is now facing attacks from some Republicans like Smith and their Big Business backers who want to see the anti-bribery statute rolled back.

MainJustice.com has reported that Smith will be holding a hearing into FCPA on June 14, and reported that Smith's senior counsel, Sam Ramer, has already laid out specific changes to the FCPA that might be explored:

At the event in May, Ramer said the committee's staff is looking at four potential changes to the FCPA. They are considering whether to limit a company's "successor liability" to past FCPA violations committed by companies they have acquired, to create an affirmative compliance defense, to seek more specificity on the definition of a foreign official under the law, and to create a corporate willfulness requirement under the FCPA.

The "potential changes" highlighted by Smith's counsel mirror restrictions to the anti-bribery law that were proposed last October by the U.S. Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform, which were presumably made available at a Chamber Congressional staff briefing in April. The Chamber's recommendations:

Specifically, this paper recommends the following reforms:

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