NYU Law Forum examines anti-corruption enforcement in the United States

At a September 13 NYU Law Forum, a panel of experts, including a federal prosecutor, a defense attorney, and two NYU Law faculty members, convened to examine the evolving landscape of anti-corruption enforcement in the US and the impact that corruption on the part of public officials has on US democracy.

Co-hosted by the Program on Corporate Compliance and Enforcement (PCCE), the Forum was moderated by PCCE Director Jennifer Arlen ’86, Norma Z. Paige Professor of Law. The panelists were M. Kristin Mace, chief of the Criminal Division of the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York; Barnes & Thornburg partner Lawrence Gerschwer, who is a former assistant US attorney and member of the Public Corruption Unit of the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York; and Kevin Davis, Beller Family Professor of Business Law.

Watch video of their discussion:

Among the topics they discussed were the 2016 Supreme Court case McDonnell v. US, which narrowed the legal definition of bribery and made it more challenging for prosecutors to prove corrupt acts by public officials, and extra-legal sanctions, such as media coverage, rejection by voters, and other mechanisms, that provide some level of accountability for corrupt actors.

Selected remarks from the discussion:

M. Kristin Mace: “In democracies, the perception itself is really important. The public needs to be able to trust their public officials to be able to be doing the right thing, and when someone is getting a personal benefit, that trust is harder to come by…. Even in instances where the government or the prosecuting authority can’t prove an actual harm, you can’t prove that the wrong decision was made, the perception itself is damaging to our institutions, and so it’s worth prosecuting those crimes even when there’s no actual harm proven.” (video 9:34)

Lawrence Gerschwer: “There’s a lot of really unseemly conduct that is not criminal, but there are other [mechanisms to prevent corruption], like disclosure, voters shaming, and public shaming…that you hope has an impact on some of this unseemly conduct.” (video 56:20)

Kevin Davis: “I think it’s important to remember how [the McDonnell] decision was received, not amongst lawyers, who are parsing every line, but in the general community and certainly the anti-corruption community, and it was viewed as a disaster. That the Court was sort of flashing a green light. And so that is a problem….[because it] sends a message that the standard is being reduced.” (video 1:08:40)

Posted October 17, 2023.