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The Supreme Court on Corruption

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US Supreme Court

QUESTION: Mr. Armstrong; What is your take on the Supreme Court corruption ruling?

ANSWER: Actually, under strict construction, I would have to agree with this one.  The statute actually provides that when a public official is paid to influence an “official act” in exchange for cash, loans, or gifts then it becomes a crime. However, an “official act” is defined as “any decision or action on any question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy, which may at any time be pending, or which may by law be brought before any public official, in such official’s official capacity, or in such official’s place of trust or profit.” (18 U. S. C. §201(a)(3))

Therefore, the “official act” must be a decision or action on a “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy, which may at any time be pending.” If nothing is actually pending, then it is not within the strict letter of the statute. The Supreme Court held that “Setting up a meeting, talking to another official, or organizing an event—without more—does not fit that definition of ‘official act.”

In contrast, the links between donations to the Clinton Foundation and arms deals would fall within the plain language of the statute. She committed an “official act” by approving an arms deal with a donation to the Clinton Foundation. That would fit, but mere introductions do not. Under that loose definition, virtually everyone in Congress would be in jail. Not a bad idea in many cases, but it would be a stretch.