Professor Elizabeth Spahn spoke for victims of bribery before most of us had discovered the topic. She has defended compliance as pro-business and condemned bribes for destroying capitalism. More eloquently than anyone else, she has stood for the idea — once derided and now embraced — that compliance and enforcement can change the world and help people live better lives.
‘[P]articipating in this great shift has been the most important work of my lifetime,’ Professor Spahn wrote in her FCPA Blog Thanksgiving message. ‘I am truly thankful to have lived long enough to see some real successes.’
To her, the global anti-graft campaign is ‘the crown jewel of the movements for global justice.’
‘As a veteran foot soldier in several earth-shaking global reform movements,‘ she said, ’from the struggle for racial justice, to the explosion of energy now known as the womens’ movements, to the environmental movements, I was privileged to be there as each movement found its roots and began to expand.’
When the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act first appeared 35 years ago, it was thought of as a ‘quaint American utopian fantasy,’ Professor Spahn said. But it helped change minds from Washington to the four corners of the earth. In 2007, the Wall Street Journal even called enactment of the FCPA one of Congress’s finest moments. By then the utopian fantasy had also produced the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and the U.N. Convention Against Corruption, both now gaining acceptance and enforcement around the globe.
Professor Spahn’s ‘crown jewel of movements for social justice’ came to mind when Transparency International released its 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index this week. TI was founded 20 years ago and two years later published its first CPI. That one covered just 41 countries and didn’t make a huge splash. But over the years, the CPI, which now ranks 171 countries, has also helped change minds.
Few leaders or citizens in the mid 1990s bothered to talk about corruption. Why waste time debating something that can’t be changed, was the common attitude. Now the CPI is cited by the press somewhere every day. It has become an indispensable tool for journalists, pundits, graft fighters, legislators, lawyers, and concerned citizens.
Graft won’t disappear anytime soon because it springs from the human heart. As Professor Spahn said, ‘Like murder, rape and bigotry, reforms will never totally eradicate corruption. I should know — I’m from Chicago.’
But the dark side of the human heart isn’t the end of the story, for Professor Spahn or the rest of us. Today ordinary people who live in countries terrorized by corruption are fighting back, online and in the streets. Leaders now fear a bad CPI ranking because of the trouble it can cause at home and abroad.
For anyone who still clings to the idea that compliance and enforcement are passing fads that will sooner or later fade away, Professor Spahn has done a great service. She’s shown how the global fight against graft is already part of the arc of the moral universe, which Martin Luther King said is long but bends towards justice. She may not admit it, but some of the credit for all that belongs to Professor Spahn herself.
Elizabeth Spahn’s most recent article, Implementing Global Anti-Bribery Norms from the FCPA to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention to the U.N. Convention Against Corruption, 23 Indiana Int’l & Comp. L. Rev. 1 (2013), is available from SSRN here.
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.