Below is letter sent today by Democracy 21 to the Senate, urging Senators to vote for the Leahy-Cornyn “Public Corruption Prosecution Improvements Act” amendment to be offered to the “Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act” or STOCK Act.

Reform groups have sent several letters to Congress in the past in support of the STOCK Act.

Democracy 21 strongly endorses this effort to fix loopholes in the nation’s anti-corruption laws, including loopholes in the Honest Services Statute, which were created as a result of  the Supreme Court decision in Skilling v. United States, and in the Gratuities Statute.
These loopholes have made it far more difficult to investigate and prosecute corruption by public officials, including bribery and self-dealing.

The complete letter follows below.

January 31, 2012

Dear Senator:

Democracy 21 strongly urges you to vote for the Leahy-Cornyn “Public Corruption Prosecution Improvements Act” to be offered as amendment 1483 to S.2038, the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act (STOCK Act).

The legislation strengthens existing anti-corruption laws and is essential to correct flaws that exist that have made it very difficult to investigate and prosecute corruption by public officials.

Fred Wertheimer
President, Democracy 21

The following explanation of the bill was prepared by Senator Leahy’s office in consultation with Senator Cornyn’s office:

The Leahy-Cornyn “Public Corruption Prosecution Improvements Act” Am. 1483 to S.2038, the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act

This Leahy-Cornyn amendment is carefully drafted to fix the tools investigators and prosecutors need to detect and prosecute corruption by public officials.  It reflectsbipartisan, bicameral agreement with Reps. Sensenbrenner and Quigley.  Their companion bill, H.R. 2572, was reported unanimously by the House Judiciary Committee.  It has been significantly improved since versions previously considered.    

Strengthening corruption enforcement is vital to our democracy and our security. 

  • Corruption offenses undermine our democracy and the American people’s faith in their government.  Enforcing these vital laws must be a priority.
  • The FBI has identified a nexus between official corruption and terrorism – such as corrupt customs agents or consular officers.  We must attack this link through increased enforcement efforts.

This amendment includes legislative fixes to enhance the effectiveness of corruption laws, and remove ambiguities to ensure that corrupt officials receive appropriate punishments.

  • The bill fixes the federal gratuities statute to clarify that public officials may not take gifts or money worth over $1000, beyond what is permitted by existing rules and regulations, given to them because of their official position.
  • The bill fills in a loophole that allowed corrupt conduct to go unpunished by broadening the definition of what it means for a public official to perform an “official act” for the purposes of the bribery statute.
  • The bill raises statutory maximum penalties for serious select anti-corruption statutes.

The amendment restores, in a clear and limited way, the crucial honest services fraud statute.

  • The Supreme Court in Skilling v. United States restricted the offense of honest services fraud to cases of bribery and kickbacks, which had the effect of permitting public officials to engage in undisclosed self-dealing.
  • This amendment would allow prosecutors to target undisclosed self-dealing by state and federal public officials, which is when those officials secretly act in their own financial self-interest, rather than in the interest of the public and in contravention of clear, stated disclosure rules.

This amendment extends the statute of limitations for the most serious public corruption offenses. 

  • It extends the statute of limitations from five to six years for bribery, honest services fraud, and extortion by a public official – the same period available for tax fraud and securities fraud and less than the 10 years available for bank fraud.
  • Public corruption cases are difficult and time-consuming to investigate and prosecute, often requiring use of informants and electronic monitoring, as well as review of extensive financial and electronic records.