U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

January 28, 2023

Exposing Corruption

Dear Fellow Marylanders,

The 118th Congress started its first session in earnest this week, with senators able to introduce legislation and resolutions that are personal passions and at the top of their priority list. For me, among early legislation on tax policy and health care, I am continuing the fight against a pernicious practice that is debilitating to the world’s economy, good governance and global security: corruption.

Corruption threatens our national security, economic equity, global anti-poverty and development efforts, and democracy itself. Corruption is a crime in the U.S., but in many other countries, it unfortunately is the cost of doing business.

In 1977, led by Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin, the U.S. led the slow steady march to identifying and eliminating (or at least punishing) corruption. Proxmire proposed the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which made it a federal offense in the U.S. for an American company to pay bribes in other countries to secure contracts, and President Jimmy Carter signed it into law. Some said the U.S. would not be able to compete in world markets. But soon, other leading democracies adopted similar measures, and it became a standard part of the world economy. Yet corruption endures and we have to take stronger measures to create the level playing field for our businesses and to bolster other nations’ efforts in this regard.

This week, I reintroduced a bill called the Combating Global Corruption Act,” with my colleague Senator Todd Young (R-Ind.). Senator Young and I don’t agree on everything, but we are united in our effort to prevent and counter corruption and help demonstrate the advantages of transparent and accountable governance.

This has been a long-term effort, so it was encouraging when President Joe Biden published a memorandum declaring the fight against corruption as a “core national security interest.” This was a first for any president. The official memo reads in part:

“Corruption threatens United States national security, economic equity, global anti-poverty and development efforts, and democracy itself.  By effectively preventing and countering corruption and demonstrating the advantages of transparent and accountable governance, we can secure a critical advantage for the United States and other democracies.”

That is clear as clear can be. To deter and defeat corruption, and to punish corrupt actors, is to enhance the security of the United States and other democracies.

What my bill would do is require the State Department to publish a list of countries in three tiers, according to the degree to which their governments are working towards fulfilling their international commitments to combat corruption. We are proposing a valuable tool not only for the U.S. government, but an incentive for other countries to cooperate with us in the fight against corruption – the fight for stability, and national and economic security.

For the lowest performing countries, sanctions could be imposed if the Secretaries of State and Treasury deem there are foreign persons engaged in significant corruption for the purposes under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. This is legislation I authored with the late Sen. John McCain that Congress made permanent just last year.

The purpose of this new ranking system is not simply to embarrass countries or individuals. This is about shining a light where corruption is rampant and governments are complicit, whether by action or inaction. We want to impel change.

As James Bryce wrote in 1888, “Selfishness, injustice, cruelty, tricks and jobs of all sorts shun the light; to expose them is to defeat them. No serious evils, no rankling sore in the body politic, can remain long concealed, and when disclosed, it is half destroyed.”

The U.S. Department of Justice may not always have the capability to prosecute foreign bad actors who are profiting from lies, scams and suffering. But with the new ranking tool created by our legislation, we can remind them that people and the rule of law matter, and that there will be consequences for the corrupt acts of individuals and companies.

We are not reinventing the wheel either. The State Department annually produces several public reports about how well other countries governments perform in their human rights practices, in combatting human trafficking and in protecting international religious freedom.

We know these reports have a monumental impact on curbing atrocities around the globe. In April 2022, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Report on Human Rights Practices “could not be more vital or urgent given the ongoing human rights abuses and violations in many countries.” In June 2022, he credited the international religious freedom report with helping 35 governments and multilateral organizations establish offices dedicated to religious freedom protections.

If you read the news on any regular basis, you know that Russia’s road to its unprovoked and illegal war on Ukraine is paved by corruption. It’s one of Vladimir Putin’s many resources keeping him afloat. But he isn’t alone.

Corruption anywhere in the world undermines democracy everywhere.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to sharing with you details on more of the legislation that I have and will be introducing this Congress. Please feel free to reply to this email with your thoughts on this topic or any others.


               Ben Cardin