A coalition of U.S.-based advocacy organizations will soon begin an international petition drive to preempt introduction of legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that would water-down the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). In recent months provisions of the Act have come under attack by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for various reasons including a claim that the law gives too much power to federal prosecutors. The petition, which is expected to be released in the next few days, is targeted at Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin republican, who has said he will craft a bill that brings the law “up to date.” Sensenbrenner chairs a subcommittee of the powerful House Judiciary Committee which convened a hearing in June that largely criticized the FCPA.
The FCPA has been on the books since 1977 and is seen by anti-corruption advocates around the globe as the model for international standards aimed at curtailing the payment of bribes by corporation with the goal of obtaining or retaining business. Earlier this year the U.S. Chamber began in earnest its efforts to change the law. Specifically, the Chamber would like to see a bill that would amend the law by limiting a corporation’s liability for prior actions of a company it has acquired, for the acts of its subsidiaries and by creating a “willfulness” provision that would require prosecutors to demonstrate that the corporation knew it was violating the law when a specific payment was made.
Since the wording of the petition has not been finalized the lead organizations behind it are reluctant to come forward with public statements. That said, it can be expected that some of the most well-known organizations in the transparency, anti-bribery and human rights fields will be among the petition’s sponsors. The petition will be posted to the Change.org website which is a well known hub for various advocacy efforts. Indeed, Change.org claims that through its efforts it garnered 140,000 signatures protesting the detention of Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei.
The FCPA has been in the news in recent days due to News Corp’s growing problems related to phone hacking in the UK and, possibly, in the United States. Last Friday the U.S. Justice Department announced an investigation of News Corp for possible violations of the Act. In response, News Corp has hired the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton which provides counsel to the U.S. Chamber in its efforts to push for a weakening of the FCPA.