When Is Lobbying Considered Bribery?
The legal line between lobbying and bribery can appear to be thin at times. There is no doubt that money plays a significant role in the political process in our country. Nevertheless, politicians must obtain their contributions in a legal manner. Otherwise, they could face accusations of accepting a bribe.
What Is Bribery?
A legal definition of bribery is “corrupt solicitation, acceptance, or transfer of value in exchange for official action.” The crime of bribery involves giving money or something of value to a public official in exchange for that official acting in a way that benefits the defendant. For the purpose of bribery charges, a public official does not have to be a public employee – it can be someone volunteering in a particular position.
In addition to existing federal law, all states in the U.S. have enacted laws against bribery. Although these laws mainly target the person offering or giving a bribe, there are also legal consequences for public officials who solicit or accept anything of value in exchange for taking an official action or not doing something the official is legally obligated to do.
What Must the Prosecution Prove?
To convict a defendant of bribery, the prosecution must:
- Show that a “quid pro quo” relationship existed, in which the official who received the gift directly altered behavior in exchange for the gift. Campaign contributions to political candidates from individuals or corporations do not constitute bribery.
- Prove intent to influence the discharging of another’s official duties.
- Prove that both parties understand and agree to the arrangement. (This is required by some statutes.)
How Does Lobbying Differ from Bribery?
Lobbying can be defined as “an attempt to influence government action through either written or oral communication,” as stated by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). However, each state has its own definition and may have unique elements for what constitutes lobbying.
Groups lobbying a political figure may donate to a politician’s party or campaign in an effort to influence the way he or she votes or acts. This is legal when done properly. These groups hope the politicians will consider their financial backers when drafting bills or voting on legislation.
This may seem similar to bribery, but lobbying and bribery differ. Bribes are given to an official directly for the purpose of guaranteeing a specific action. Lobbyists, on the other hand, are hoping to gain influence over political figures, but they are not guaranteed any particular results.
What Are the Defenses Against Accusations of Bribery?
If you have been accused of bribery, your defense strategy will depend on the facts of your case. Common defenses in federal bribery cases include the following:
- Lack of intent to bribe: To convict you on bribery charges, the prosecution must prove that you had specific intent to offer or receive a bribe. Having no criminal intent when you offered or accepted payment is a common defense.
- Insufficient evidence to prove all elements of the crime: When you are on trial for criminal charges, the prosecution must prove every element of the crime you are accused of committing beyond a reasonable doubt. Challenging the prosecution’s evidence can instill doubt in the minds of the jurors. In some cases, the prosecution will drop the case or the court will dismiss it.
Call Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP at (213) 688-0460 for experienced legal defense against bribery charges. Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys are well-known for their work in federal defense and other areas of criminal law. We take pride in delivering the best defense available for every client we represent.