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Scope of Federal Corruption Law for State and Local Politicos Narrowed

Someone opening their wallet to see how much money they have in it

A state or local official does not violate a federal bribery statute if the official has taken an official act before any gratuity for it is agreed to, much less given, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 26.

Gratuities may be such things as gift cards, lunches, plaques, books, or framed photos. They are often given and received among the U.S. workforce of 19 million state and local officials—including mayors, school sports coaches, and firefighters.

“Although a gratuity offered and accepted after the official act may be unethical or illegal under other federal, state or local laws, the gratuity does not violate Section 666,” the court decided.

Section 666 (a)(1)(B) makes it a crime for state and local officials to corruptly accept items worth at least $5,000 with the intent to be influenced or rewarded for an official act. The text of this section was based on Section 201(b), the bribery provision for federal officials. Section 666 bears little resemblance to Section 201(c), the gratuities provision for federal officials, which simply makes it a crime for federal officials to accept a payment for or because of any official act and has no requirements that the official have a corrupt state of mind or have been influenced in the official act, the court held. Moreover, bribery has much longer sentences than violations of prohibitions on receiving gratuities.

The court said the government had asked the court to adopt an interpretation of Section 666 that “would radically upend gratuities rules and turn Section 666 into a vague and unfair trap for 19 million state and local officials. We decline to do so.”

Section 666 is a vital statute, but its focus is targeted, the court added. Section 666 proscribes bribes to state and local officials, while allowing state and local governments to regulate gratuities to state and local officials, the court held.

“The flaw in the government’s approach—and it is a very serious real-world problem—is that the government does not identify any remotely clear lines separating an innocuous or obviously benign gratuity from a criminal gratuity,” the court said.

The government simply opines that state and local officials may not accept “wrongful” gratuities. That is no guidance at all, the court said.

“How are state legislators, city council members, school board officials, building code inspectors, probation officers, human resource directors, police officers, librarians, snow plow drivers, court clerks, prison guards, high school basketball coaches, mayors, zoning board members, animal control officers, social workers, firefighters, city planners and the entire army of 19 million state and local officials to know what is acceptable and what is criminalized by the federal government? They cannot,” the court stated.

The government’s guidance would leave state and local officials at sea to guess about what gifts are allowed under federal law, with the threat of up to 10 years in federal prison if they guess wrong. “That is not how federal criminal law works,” the court stated.

We’ve gathered articles on the decision, Snyder v. United States, from trusted media outlets.

Ex-Mayor’s Bribery Conviction Overturned

The Supreme Court overturned the bribery conviction of a former Indiana mayor, narrowing the scope of public corruption law. The court sided with the ex-mayor, who was convicted of taking $13,000 from a trucking company after prosecutors said he steered about $1 million worth of city contracts their way.


Timing Matters

“A state or local official can violate Section 666 when he accepts an up-front payment for a future official act or agrees to a future reward for a future official act,” the court said.

(The Center Square)


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