“News crossed this weekend that U.S. bank JP Morgan is being investigated by U.S. regulators for hiring well-connected people in China. Specifically, the bank is said to be under investigation for hiring two bankers whose fathers ran big Chinese companies that later hired JP Morgan for several assignments.” [Henry Blodget, Business Insider]
The implications are mind-boggling [Houston Chronicle/Connecticut Post via NACDL via Americans for Forfeiture Reform, earlier] On paper, NSA is supposed to turn over spy-collected data only if evidence of serious unrelated crime turns up while investigating terrorist threats or other specified matters. However, as Reuters shows in an important new investigation, in drug investigations (and probably other types as well) “law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin — not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges” Thus the common little white lie about how such-and-such was discovered “during a routine traffic stop,” when in fact the traffic stop was intended to intercept something or someone known by previous investigation to be aboard the vehicle. With the origins of investigation routinely “phonied up” in this way, however, it becomes virtually impossible to know how many handoffs of spy information fall into gray areas beyond the clear intent of the authorizing law. [Julian Sanchez, Cato] Our coverage of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is here; earlier on surveillance here.
On Ralph Lauren’s agreement with prosecutors to settle charges under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act that its agents improperly bribed officials in Argentina to allow goods to move through trade channels: “Disgorge is a curious description. The $593,000 is the amount they paid out in bribes, not the amount they took in. Disgorge usually refers to the fruits of crime, but instead refers here to the perverse perspective of our government in keeping American corporations pure as the driven snow while minor warlords elsewhere demand their piece of the pie. Whether it’s money in or out, gained or lost, or even neither existing nor realized, it’s all money the government demands be disgorged.” [Scott Greenfield] More on the case: Lawrence Cunningham, FCPA Professor.
At remedying the culture of bribery that afflicts so much of government in Mexico and other countries, the U.S.’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act has been an utter and rather absurd failure. But the law has succeeded in its most important objective: making us feel good about ourselves [Steve Chapman, syndicated/Chicago Tribune]
More: Alison Frankel on the Sarbanes-Oxley angle; Catherine Dunn, Corporate Counsel, on the Mexican side of the Wal-Mart scandal.
- Notwithstanding the tone of much coverage, companies are not legally required to disclose past FCPA violations to the government when they emerge: “It’s my understanding from in-house counsel that those who [voluntarily] disclose are in the distinct minority,” says one observer. Also, Prof. Koehler notes that even if Wal-Mart successfully defends the Mexican outlays as lawful “facilitating payments,” the company could still be accused of violating FCPA’s “books and records” and internal control provisions as well as Sarbanes-Oxley. [Sue Reisinger, Corporate Counsel]
- Coyote recalls the eyes-averted maneuvers with which his former employer put itself in a posture of formal FCPA compliance when operating in corrupt countries;
- Must-read Scott Greenfield post: “The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is the corporate version of blue laws, a reflection of American idealism born of our Puritanical origins, our Pollyanna-ish denial of how the sausage of business is made, our jingoistic belief that we are so integral to the economic functioning of the world that we can dictate a cultural and moral code for everyone, and they can either comply with our great American will or suck eggs. It’s a fantasy of self-righteousness, and even Wal-Mart got caught in the reality that the business of business is business, and not puffy-chested Americans can bully Mexicans into succumbing to our moralistic ways.” Also suggests what Wal-Mart might say in response (at least if Wal-Mart were a character in an Ayn Rand novel) and notes “efforts to take this mutt of a law and attempt to reform it, at least to the extent that it not make American multinational corporations chose between being criminals or uncompetitive.”
- Speaking of which, some reforms sought by business: “Bringing Transparency to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act” [Michael Mukasey and James Dunlop, Federalist Society "Engage"]
- Jeffrey Miron: prosecute Wal-Mart but repeal FCPA [CNN/Cato]
- While agreeing that the FCPA we have at present is pretty bad, Prof. Bainbridge thinks a case can be made for such a law in principle;
- Something to get Capitol Hill Democrats on board for reform? FCPA might menace Hollywood on China dealings [WSJ "Corruption Currents"]
Earlier here, here, here, and (at Cato) here.
I’ve got a new opinion piece up at the Daily Caller on some relevant angles of the unfolding Wal-Mart FCPA story, including the feds’ growing crackdown on low-level “facilitating payments” that had previously been considered lawful, the potentially confiscatory effects of something called the Alternative Fines Act, and the question of why FCPA fines and settlements should be going to the U.S. Treasury, “which was surely not the victim of the Mexican bribe-paying, if victims there were.” Earlier here, here and (at Cato) here; and link thanks to Scott Greenfield (a must-read), Point of Law, Chris Fountain, Steve Bainbridge, and Coyote.
Plus: Scoop! Must credit Washington Post! Wal-Mart (like much of the rest of American business) has backed FCPA reform! In above-the-fold coverage with no fewer than three reporters’ bylines — though it does little more than recycle a meme that bounced around left-wing websites all day Tuesday — the Washington Post darkly warns that the giant retailer has been a member of broad business coalitions pressing various FCPA reforms “that, some advocacy groups argue, would eviscerate the Watergate-era anti-corruption statute.” “There is no evidence,” the paper is constrained to concede to the disappointment of Some Advocacy Groups, “that suggests Wal-Mart participated in the Chamber’s efforts because of its problems in Mexico.”
The Post notes that the campaign is led by what it bizarrely describes as the U.S. Chamber’s “little-known” Institute for Legal Reform. Yet the Post’s own index indicates that the “little-known” Institute has gotten seven mentions in the paper within the past 12 months, mostly for its advocacy on FCPA reform. Indeed, the Post itself has covered the FCPA debate in some depth over the past year, and its editorialists have ardently defended the law (perhaps “Watergate-era” should serve as some kind of tipoff phrasing.)
It would be one thing if Wal-Mart’s Washington reps had shown some sort of special dislike of FCPA not shared by other American firms that do business in developing countries. But the real story here is how broad and pervasive the discontent with the law is among American businesses with international operations. They consider it unrealistic, incapable of reliable compliance, punitive and constantly changing in its interpretations. Wouldn’t the Post do better to begin listening to them, rather than demonize their efforts to petition Washington for redress?
I’ll be writing at more length about the New York Times’s story on Wal-Mart de Mexico’s payments to local officials, and the apparent sense of some in Bentonville that the issue would rest quietly if only they didn’t investigate it too hard. In the mean time, I’ve got a new post up at Cato at Liberty pointing to some reactions to the case from observers like Mike Koehler, Peter Henning, Stephen Bainbridge and Paul MacAvoy (interviewed by Dan Fisher at Forbes).
P.S.: Discussions of Mexico’s lamentable national institution of la mordida — literally, “the bite” — here, here, and here.