With two high profile Texas cases of bribery by military contractors in the news, I've been thinking recently about what is the appropriate sentence for bribery? On the one hand it's a nonviolent offense. On the other, especially in the cases of bribes to government officials by military contractors, the crime assumes a gravity that borders on treasonous viewed in a certain light.
Googling around on the subject I found Nelson Schwartz focused on these very questions recently in the New York Times last month. Reacting to news that a Chinese official was executed for taking bribes, Schwartz surveyed various historical bribery punishments as a reference point: "throughout history," he wrote, "bribery has often been thought of as a crime that could harm the state — thus worthy of extreme punishment. Severe sanctions for bribe-taking have a long and bloody history."
Among various bribery punishments throughout history:
- Death penalty
- Stripped of citizenship and exiled
- Seizure of assets
- Choice of jail or paying a fine (colonial America).
And in ancient Rome, Schwartz finds, they took a "lenient approach." "Tiberias said he wanted his 'sheep shorn, not flayed,' meaning that while citizens might have to keep paying, local rulers shouldn’t be excessively greedy when demanding payments."
In Texas today, bribery is a second degree felony punishable by 2-20 years in prison. Here are the federal sentencing guidelines related to bribery.
I was also struck by Schwartz's article that bribe taking appears to have historically received more harsh punishment than offering bribes. That tradition apparently continues today, as we see mounting prosecutions against bribe taking servicemen and their families while the corporations who bribed them continue to do business with the US government. That's a punishment tradition I'd like to see corrected - the company giving the bribe, to me, is at least as culpable as the soldier who takes it, arguably more so.
What do you think is the appropriate punishment for bribe taking? And what do you think should happen to corporations that offered these bribes and allegedly received lucrative contracts in return?
UPDATE - YIKES! (Not for the faint of heart!) Despite some dark and perhaps inappropriate humor in the comments regarding the relative benefits of "flogging" as a punishment, this afternoon I ran across this post from the Pennsylvania Correctional Forum, which is the blog of the Pennsylvania Prison Society. It links to a video depicting an actual flogging - a caning, to be precise - in Malaysia, for what crime I do not know. The punishment is used for drug crimes, rape, and illegal entry into the country. Jokes in poor taste aside, only a coward would strap someone down and beat them, and when the state does it, it's clearly an abuse.
NUTHER BRIBERY UPDATE: On the Texas DA's User Forum Williamson County DA John Bradley writes:
For an interesting opinion on whether the search of Congressman Jefferson's office violated the Speech and Debate Clause of the U.S. Constitution, click here.
The issue is a bit more complex than has been revealed in the media (shocking). And, it is also not so clear that the FBI won't get to use some of the information that was obtained in the search. For example, the exclusionary rule only applies to the Fourth Amendment, which was not yet raised.
Anyway, from other reports, it appears the FBI has independent evidence of Jefferson's guilt for bribery (like the cash found in his freezer). We shall see.