01.31.12

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On the Public Corruption Prosecution Improvements Act of 2011, An Amendment To The STOCK Act

[U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) have filed an amendment to the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act to give prosecutors new tools to identify, investigate, and prosecute criminal conduct by public officials.

 

The amendment mirrors legislation approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last year, and will strengthen existing federal criminal law for acts of public corruption and raise maximum statutory penalties.  The amendment will also clarify the definition of what it means for a public official to perform an “official act,” and amend the federal bribery statute to show that corrupt payment can be made to influence more than one official act.  The legislation also amends the federal gratuities statute to make clear that a public official cannot accept anything of value given to them because of their official position other than as permitted by existing rules or regulations.]

 

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,

On Amendment 1483, The “Public Corruption Prosecution Improvements Act Of 2011,”

To S.2038, The Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge Act

January 31, 2012

 

Today I am pleased to join with Senator Cornyn to offer our Public Corruption Prosecution Improvements Act as an amendment to the pending bill.  I hear Senators saying that with the public’s opinion of Congress at a low point, we need to take action to restore public confidence.  I believe our amendment will help do that by closing loopholes in the laws that have allowed corruption to escape accountability. 

We must provide investigators and prosecutors the tools they need to hold officials at all levels of government accountable when they act corruptly.  This amendment, which reflects a bipartisan, bicameral agreement, will strengthen and clarify key aspects of Federal criminal law and help investigators and prosecutors attack public corruption nationwide.  The Senate Judiciary Committee has now reported this bill with bipartisan support in three successive Congresses.  The House Judiciary Committee recently reported a companion bill unanimously.  It is time for Congress to act to pass serious anti-corruption legislation. 

Public corruption erodes the trust the American people have in those who are given the privilege of public service.  Too often, loopholes in existing laws have meant that corrupt conduct can go unchecked.  The stain of corruption has spread to all levels of government, and that victimizes every American by chipping away at the foundations of our democracy.  This amendment will help us to take real steps to restore confidence in government by rooting out criminal corruption. 

Importantly, the amendment includes a fix to reverse a major step backward in the fight against fraud and corruption.  In Skilling v. United States, the Supreme Court sided with a former executive from Enron and greatly narrowed the honest services fraud statute, a law that has been used for decades as a crucial weapon to combat public corruption and self-dealing. The Court’s decision leaves corrupt conduct unchecked.  Most notably, the Court’s decision would leave open the opportunity for state and Federal public officials to secretly act in their own financial self-interest, rather than in the interest of the public.  This amendment closes this gaping hole in our anti-corruption laws.

The amendment includes several other provisions designed to tighten existing law.  It fixes the gratuities statute to make clear that public officials must not be bought.  It reaffirms that public officials may not accept anything worth more than $1,000, other than what is permitted by existing rules and regulations, given to them because of their official position.  The amendment also appropriately clarifies the definition of what it means for a public official to perform an “official act” for the purposes of the bribery statute.

This amendment will increase sentences for serious corruption offenses and provide investigators and prosecutors more time to pursue these challenging, complex cases.  It also amends several key statutes to clarify their application in corruption cases to prevent corrupt public officials and their accomplices from evading prosecution based on legal ambiguities.

If we are serious about addressing the kinds of egregious misconduct that we have witnessed in recent years in high-profile public corruption cases, Congress should enact meaningful legislation to give investigators and prosecutors the tools they need to enforce our laws.  It is time to strengthen the criminal law to bring those who undermine the public trust to justice.  I hope that the Senate today will adopt this bipartisan amendment and take firm action to stamp out intolerable corruption.

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