The FCPA is fundamentally about change: in federal laws, in global attitudes, in corporate practices, and ultimately, in ourselves. I wanted my law school students to see that change happening, to feel it for themselves. And so I invited Richard Bistrong to speak.
I remember talking to Richard for the first time, about two and a half years ago. I was hugely skeptical. After all, this guy was both an ex-con and a corporate snitch, the infamous informant in the African Sting cases who went on to serve 14 months in federal prison for his own FCPA violations. I didn’t trust him, didn’t like him. I assumed him to be self-serving, that his proffered motives for entering the FCPA compliance space were insincere.
But the same can be said of governments and corporations, and in fact is said all the time. Those of us who teach and lecture in this space regularly face the cynicism. “All this anti-corruption talk is nothing but a money-maker for the ______ “ (fill in the blank: individual prosecutors, DOJ, U.S. Government, law firms, accounting firms, journalists, academics, bloggers, etc. etc. etc.).
Sure, people around the world profit from the emerging culture of ABC enforcement and compliance, including everyone I just mentioned. But that’s not all it is. Plainly. There’s more going on there, and only the most hardened cynic could fail to see it.
So I — and the FCPA Blog — gave Richard a chance. And though I have not yet read the student evaluations for this semester’s new Corporate Compliance course, I am fairly sure that most students will call Richard’s Bistrong talk the semester’s singular highlight.
He told a story that we all know and have lived through, or one day will, but rarely have the courage to confess. It was a story of how an unsuspecting human being slowly gets pulled down a slippery slope of greed, obliviousness, and ultimately self-denial. Having never declared that he cared nothing for the right thing, he nonetheless found himself acting otherwise in a fundamental way. When it came time to pay the price, there was no one to blame but himself.
Who among us can say we know nothing of this? We all do, or will. As governments, as corporations, and as individuals, the temptation to engage in self-serving but socially damaging practices is omnipresent. And to hear someone discuss it with candor and specificity is edifying for all of us.
The FCPA is itself a powerful testament to the ability of countries, cultures, and corporations to change. The world thought we were crazy when we enacted it in 1977, and no less so when enforcement began in the early 2000s. And the world is populated today with those who did not at first get on board, but today, really get it. We are now living through an historic transition, one filled with achievements and setbacks, with skepticism and with hope.
Richard Bistrong might be the best individual example of transition I know. Through it all, he came to see the world and himself in a new a brighter way. Today, he shares the FCPA compliance message as powerfully as any could: the risks, the harms, what we must do to prevent it and why.
In this otherwise tempestuous holiday season, there may yet be evidence for hope.
Andy Spalding is a Senior Editor of the FCPA Blog and a Professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.