U.S. House: Judiciary Committee Urged to Pass Bill Tomorrow to Help Prosecutors Battle Public Corruption
Today, the Campaign Legal Center and a coalition of reform groups called on the House Judiciary Committee to pass the bipartisan “Clean Up Government Act of 2011” (H.R. 2572) at a markup tomorrow. This legislation would restore important tools for federal prosecutors fighting public corruption – specifically revisions to the Honest Services and illegal gratuities statutes – that have gradually been pared away by adverse court decisions.
The full Judiciary Committee is scheduled to markup H.R. 2572 tomorrow, Thursday December 1 at 10:00 am in Room 2141 Rayburn House Office Building.
“This is legislation is vitally important if prosecutors are to stand any chance of holding public officials accountable for most public corruption,” said Meredith McGehee, Campaign Legal Center Policy Director. “Most public officials are not foolish enough to jot down a price list for earmarks on a cocktail napkin like former Rep. Randy ‘Duke’ Cunningham (R-CA), but a series of court rulings have stripped prosecutors of important anti-corruption tools other than the bribery statute which requires a quid pro quo. ”
H.R. 2572 responds to last year’s Supreme Court decision in Skilling v. United States, which eliminated an entire category of deceptive, fraudulent and corrupt conduct from the Honest Services fraud statute. The “Clean Up Government Act” would restore that statute in line with Court’s direction for more clarity. In addition, the bill would restore the illegal gratuities statute so that public officials may not accept gifts given because of their governmental position and makes clear public officials who accept private compensation for using their the powers their jobs afford them may now be subject to prosecution. With this statute significantly compromised by the Court, prosecutors have had their hand weakened and have had to turn to other statutes not as well suited to prosecute public corruption Companion legislation (S. 401) has already passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).
The reform groups sending the letter include: the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Democracy 21, League of Women Voters, Public Campaign, Public Citizen, and U.S. PIRG.
The full text of the letter follows below.
November 30, 2011
Honorable Lamar Smith, Chairman
Honorable John Conyers, Ranking Member
House Committee on the Judiciary
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20510
Re: Full Committee Markup of H.R. 2572, the “Clean Up Government Act of 2011
Sent Via Fax
Dear Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Conyers and Members of the Committee:
Today our organizations write to strongly endorse and call for swift committee passage of the “Clean Up Government Act of 2011” (H.R. 2572), which is scheduled for full committee markup on December 1. Among other things, this legislation will restore important tools for federal prosecutors fighting public corruption – revisions to the Honest Services and illegal gratuities statutes.
Last year’s Supreme Court decision in Skilling v. United States, 130 S. Ct. 2896 (2010), eliminated an entire category of deceptive, fraudulent and corrupt conduct from the scope of what was known as the Honest Services fraud statute (18 U.S.C. § 1346). For decades, §1346 was available to prosecute public officials who engage in malfeasance, such as undisclosed self-dealing. Unfortunately, theSkilling decision effectively struck down as unconstitutionally vague the Honest Services language. Consequently, there remains a gaping hole in the ability of federal prosecutors to address a vast swath of public corruption. This revised version the honest services statute is constitutionally sound and heeds the Supreme Court’s directive for more clarity and specificity.
The “Clean Up Government Act” addresses the Court’s concerns about vagueness and lack of clarity by borrowing existing language from 18 U.S.C. § 208, a well-established federal conflict-of-interest statute that already applies to the Executive Branch and that has been upheld as constitutionally sound by the Supreme Court and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Notably, under the proposed statute no public official could be prosecuted unless he or sheknowingly conceals, covers up, or fails to disclose material information – which the official already is already required by law or regulation to disclose – with the specific intent to defraud. Thus as crafted, H.R. 2572 removes the risk that a public official can be convicted for unwitting conflicts of interest or mistakes.
The legislation also revises the illegal gratuities statute which was eviscerated by the Supreme Court in United States v. Sun-Diamond Growers, 526 U.S. 398 (1999). The bill makes clear that public officials may not accept gifts given because of their governmental positions. In addition, responding to United States v. Valdes, 475 F.3d 1319 (D.C. Cir. 2007), the bill makes clear government officials who accept private compensation for using the powers their jobs afford them may be subject to criminal prosecution.
Our organizations applaud Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) for their bipartisan leadership on this issue. We urge all committee members to support and pass this critically needed reform legislation to ensure that prosecutors have the tools they need to fight public corruption.
Campaign Legal Center
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)
League of Women Voters