May 06, 2019

Introduction of S. 1309, the Combating Global Corruption Act of 2019

I rise today to discuss S. 1309, the Combating Global Corruption Act of 2019.  There is heightened awareness in the United States, the Western Hemisphere region, and around the world, that corruption is a serious threat to democracy, stability, global security. 

Corruption erodes trust and confidence in democratic institutions, the rule of law, and human rights protections.  It damages America’s global competitiveness and creates barriers to economic growth in international markets.  It threatens our national and international security by fostering the conditions for violent extremism, and weakening institutions associated with governance and accountability.  As Transparency International noted in its 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index, published this January, failure to curb corruption is contributing to a worldwide crisis of democracy.  According to Freedom House, in 2017, democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades, and marked the 12th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.

We have all seen the headlines – from scandals in Liberia, Hungary, and Guatemala, to the doping by Russian athletes and their subsequent ban from the 2016 Summer Olympics, to the Panama Papers.  It is clear  that where there are high levels of corruption we find fragile states, authoritarian states,  or states suffering from internal or external conflict – in places such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Nigeria, and Sudan. 

The problem of corruption, and the dysfunction that follows it, can be difficult to address because it is like a hydra, with many corrupt actors that can include government officials, businessmen, law enforcement, military personnel, and organized criminal groups. 

Corruption is a system that operates via extensive, entrenched networks in both the public and private sectors. It is ubiquitous and pervasive.

But we must address it.  We can’t throw up our hands and accept corruption as the status quo, because the costs of not addressing and rooting it out are too great.  Corruption fuels violent extremism, pushing young people toward violence, because they lose faith in the institutions that are supposed to protect and serve them.  Corruption feeds the destructive fire of criminal networks and transnational crime.  Citizens lose faith in the social compact between governments and the people.  And terrorist groups use corruption to recruit followers to their hateful cause.  It’s a vicious cycle.

The human cost of corruption is substantial.  Across the globe, millions of men, women and children are victims of modern day slavery.  Corruption enables their trafficking within and among countries.  Corruption is a constant companion to modern day slavery and the suffering that it brings.  We also have seen this play out in the refugee and migrant crisis, with thousands drowning in the Mediterranean, victims of trafficking networks and corrupt government officials who facilitate this illicit business.  And make no mistake, corruption is big business – UNICEF estimates that human traffickers generate $32 billion in profits by smuggling 21 million men women and children through corrupt networks every year.  

Let’s be clear-eyed – any fight against corruption will be long-term and difficult.  It’s a fight against powerful people, powerful companies, and powerful interests.  It is about changing a mindset and a culture as much as it is about establishing and enforcing laws.  As my colleagues and constituents know, my attention has long been focused on fighting corruption.  I was proud to sponsor the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act with our late colleague Senator John McCain, an unwavering enemy of corruption throughout the globe. That bipartisan bill was enacted into law in late 2016, and I applaud the Trump Administration for aggressively using the Act to target human rights abusers and corrupt individuals around the globe who threaten the rule of law and deny fundamental freedoms.  But the problem of corruption is enormous; we simply must do more.

I want to briefly discuss something that is hard to capture in legislation.  It’s something that I grappled with when drafting this bill.  And it is something that perhaps, more than anything, will dictate if we win this struggle against corruption.  And that is bipartisan political will, which as so critical in advancing the Global Magnitsky Act. Global Magnitsky took several years to enact because some in Congress, as well as some Obama Administration officials, were concerned about the political and practical ramifications of the bill. 

Another example of the impact of a lack of political will on fighting corruption is particularly salient this week, as we mourn the passing of our dear colleague, former Senator Richard Lugar.

In 2010, Senator Lugar and I were able to get one of the most powerful anti-corruption and anti-poverty laws enacted.

Senator Lugar and I worked on the bill that would become Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Act, known as the “Cardin-Lugar provision”, for several years. Over the course of our tenures on Foreign Relations Committee, we had seen clear evidence that secrecy breeds corruption and that corruption can breed instability and perpetuate poverty in resource-rich countries.  The Cardin-Lugar provision requires that all foreign and domestic companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges and involved in oil, gas, and mineral resource extraction must publish the project-level payments they make to the foreign countries in which they operate.  The enactment of this provision was a watershed moment in which the United States reclaimed its position as a leader in the effort to increase global accountability and transparency.  It took six years for the Securities and Exchange Commission to finally issue a rule to implement the law.  Six years. That’s the length of a term of a U.S. Senator.  It is college and a Master’s degree.  It took six years for the United States to act on this bill. It took that long because some people believed that less transparency is a good thing.  Some groups believed that accountability should take a back seat to profitability. Unfortunately, the rule was repealed by Congress in February 2017.

Congress has a responsibility to reaffirm our bipartisan commitment to combatting corruption not only to honor the legacies of our late colleagues Senator Lugar and Senator McCain. We also must act to show solidarity with the millions of brave human rights defenders, anti-poverty advocates, journalists, and investigators who put their lives at risk every day- and sometimes pay the ultimate price- to fight the scourge of corruption and impunity.

So, I am proud that last week Senator Young and I, along with Senators Leahy, Rubio, Blumenthal and Merkley, reaffirm bipartisan political will to combat global corruption by re-introducing the Combating Global Corruption Act, S. 1309.  Our bill makes clear that the United States must meet the scale of the problem of corruption with greater resolve and commitment.  To do that, our bill focuses on four things.

First, we must institutionalize the fight against corruption as a national security priority.  Our bill requires the State Department to produce an annual report, similar to the Trafficking in Persons Report, which takes a close look at each country’s efforts to combat corruption.  That model, which has effectively advanced the effort to combat modern day slavery, will similarly embed the issue of corruption in our collective work, so that we hold governments to account.  This bill establishes minimum standards for combating corruption – standards that should be part and parcel of every government’s commitment to its citizens.  These include whether a country has laws that recognize corrupt acts for the crimes they are – violations of the people’s trust – along with appropriate penalties for breaking that trust.  Whether a country has an independent judiciary for deciding corruption cases, free from influence and abuse.  Whether there is support for civil society organizations that are the watchdogs of integrity against would-be thieves of the state.  This bill, hopefully, will build anticorruption DNA into the foundations of government action.

Second, in the United States, our whole-of-government effort must be better coordinated.  Right now, we work across multiple agencies and in multiple offices to combat corruption.  There is much information and many best practices that can be shared – we’ve got to do better at that and take advantage of those areas where we have been successful.  The State Department and the United States Agency for International Development have done great work, but the vast nature of the problem requires that we improve our ability to tackle it.  In this bill, agencies and bureaus and our missions overseas will have to prioritize corruption into their strategic planning as an essential part of our foreign policy work – a step that I believe will foster greater cooperation.

Third, we must improve oversight of our own foreign assistance and promote transparency.  The U.S. taxpayer has a right to know how our foreign assistance is being spent, and also should feel confident that we are doing the kind of risk assessments, analysis, and oversight that ensure our assistance to other countries is having the effect we want it to have.  Our bill consolidates information and puts it online, where citizens can see the numbers and the programs.  That kind of transparency is in and of itself good, but in my experience it has the effect of making us better at self-policing our work.  We can use the data to capture redundancies and analyze trends, which I believe will make our decision-making better.  The bill embeds oversight into our foreign assistance programs overseas, maintaining the flexibility we need to meet our goals rapidly while also holding government to account.

In fact, it is a natural complement to the Foreign Assistance Transparency and Accountability Act, a bipartisan law Senator Rubio and I co-sponsored that looks at our foreign aid and seeks to ensure that our foreign assistance programs are tracked and evaluated adequately and appropriately. 

I’m a believer in the power of example. This “one-two” punch of the Combating Global Corruption Act and the Foreign Assistance Transparency Act strengthens our foreign assistance policy, demonstrates that we hold ourselves to the highest standards, and shows other countries that we are committed to this fight.

Finally, we have to find ways to resource anti-corruption work.  Corruption is big business and big money.  We should look for ways to use seized assets and ill-gotten proceeds to build civil society capacity to fight corruption, and make it easier to transfer these assets to the appropriate effort.  We’ve also witnessed the damaging impact of corruption on our foreign assistance efforts.  The Combating Global Corruption Act understands that corruption risk assessment before, during, and after the provision of foreign aid and security assistance is integral to reducing and eliminating corruption.  It holds U.S. foreign assistance and security assistance programs accountable to U.S. taxpayers by specifying transparency and accountability measures for the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the United States Agency for International Development to advance anti-corruption efforts in those countries where the U.S. administers foreign and security assistance. 

As we project the American values of good governance and anticorruption abroad, we must also redouble our efforts to strengthen these core values here in the United States.  Unfortunately, these values have been put into question under our current administration. Our concerns run deeper than noticing the lack of priority given to anticorruption and good governance policies.  U.S. credibility has been weakening on this issue. In turn, our U.S. foreign policy is threatened.

For the third straight year, the Trump administration, through its budget request, sent a message to the world of its priorities for the United States.  For the third straight year, the Trump administration proposed drastic cuts to the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) budget, which would cut foreign assistance funding by more than 30 percent. This also came amidst the recent decision to cut off foreign assistance to the Northern Triangle of Central America, a region of the world where U.S. assistance in combating corruption has a direct impact on our national security.  This decision threatens to undermine the critical anticorruption programming that helps us combat narcotics trafficking groups and violent gangs, as well as to address the root causes of migration.  For this very reason, the bipartisan U.S. - Central America Strategy names good governance as one of its Central pillars. 

This is why for FY 2020, I asked the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs to include at least $500,000 for the Department of State and $500,000 for the U.S. Agency for International Development to achieve meaningful and robust implementation of the activities outlined in the Combating Global Corruption Act.  This includes the bill’s reporting requirements, staffing, and staff training to support anti-corruption as a foreign policy and development priority.  This bipartisan bill recognizes the importance of combating corruption as a hurdle to achieving peace, prosperity, and human rights around the world.  Passage of S. 1309 would signal to the international community that the United States Congress has not forgotten U.S. values and that we will continue to fight to ensure such values and U.S. credibility remain intact.

There is only one United States of America. There is only one country that can do what we can do – and this bill sends the message that we will continue to fight to ensure that stature does not change.

I am under no illusion that this global fight against corruption will be easy.  It will make the work of our government agencies more challenging.  It will make our diplomacy more challenging.  It will require political will.  But political will finds its source and its strength in our values.  Political will is created when we embrace those values.  Political will endures in good governance, accountability, and transparency and those values that are at the core of the compact between the government and the governed.

As this bill moves forward, I urge my colleagues to find the political will to combat global corruption, ensure accountability, and keep our commitment to the best of American values.

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