In a rare instance of Congressional bipartisanship, the Senate and House Judiciary Committees have quietly approved badly needed measures to tighten the anti-corruption laws applicable to members of Congress. These laws have eroded across a decade of court decisions, and it remains to be seen whether the full Congress will tighten bans on fraud and bribe-taking by those in its ranks.
With public approval of Congress in the single digits, the two houses would be wise to pass the Clean Up Government Act of 2011. The measure would strengthen the federal anti-bribery law that was considerably narrowed by a 2010 Supreme Court decision saying the statute covers only cases of outright kickback schemes, requiring proof of quid pro quo corruption. That lets conniving officials off the hook if they engage in undisclosed self-dealing – like quietly steering a valuable road plan through land they secretly acquired.
The proposed legislation would let prosecutors once again target “self-dealing” by public officials who secretly favor their own interests over the public’s. The measure meets the court’s demand for greater clarity in the law as applied to this form of deceptive and corrupt conduct.
The bill has been praised by Washington’s good-government organizations. Taxpayers should be grateful – if not amazed – it has gotten this far on the wings of Congressional bipartisanship. But the key test is whether the House and Senate leadership will muster the courage to let such patently good legislation reach the floor.