We like hearing from readers. Here’s a note from Washington, D.C. lawyer Stephanie Connor, left:
Dear FCPA Blog,
I’m grateful for the insights this blog, and its many contributors, have provided throughout the years. This includes the admirable work of Andy Spalding, Art Carden and Lisa Verdon – academics who cast doubt upon the ultimate utility of the FCPA as a means of combating corruption and reducing poverty in the developing world. As a lawyer and a former aid worker, I don’t always agree.
While I believe anti-corruption enforcement is necessary, I am troubled by the tenor of the recent dialogue surrounding that enforcement. This has nothing to do with the quality of the analyses that Spalding, Carden and Verdon are providing, and everything to do with the fact that expectations for what the FCPA can and should accomplish have grown completely out of hand.
The works of Spalding, Carden, and Verdon are important. Poverty reduction strategies need to be evaluated, measured, and critically assessed. But the FCPA is not a poverty reduction strategy. We cannot mistake supply-side anti-corruption enforcement for the wider effort to reduce corruption in the developing world -– a project that will require significant advancements in health, education, and the rule of law, for starters. The FCPA simply aims to ensure that U.S. actors do not provide monetary lifelines to the autocrats and oligarchs who will be threatened by the advancement of their people. It will not solve the underlying problems of poverty.
Holding the FCPA up as the magic bullet for poverty reduction is unfair to those who have foregone lucrative opportunities in order to comply with the law. By framing the anti-corruption effort as a means of vanquishing poverty, we risk handing an early victory to opponents of the Act. When the FCPA is inevitably unsuccessful, the enthusiasm for anti-corruption may dissipate, the resources for FCPA enforcement may quietly disappear, and those companies that have sacrificed so much to act within the confines and spirit of the law would be left at an even greater disadvantage.
I admire the business people and aid workers who refuse to pay bribes. They often make that choice because they realize that paying one official will lead to a torrent of other requests. The FCPA supports them. The law allows them to tell a soldier with a greedy glint in his eye that they would pay him but cannot do so without risking their company and their job. This is much easier than telling him that they could pay him but just don’t feel like it.
A successful anti-corruption effort will take more than a few years, or even a few dozen years, of enforcement. Maintaining that effort over a prolonged period requires that we also manage our expectations. It should be enough that the FCPA reduces some high-level corruption. We need not, and should not, ask it to do more.
The views expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of her employer.