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News Corporation faces a potential U.S. investigation and prosecution under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), a law that bars companies with U.S. ties from bribing foreign officials to get or retain business, stemming from widely-reported allegations of bribing police. News Corp, like several other major corporations recently targeted under the law, would not only be liable for the costs of any investigation — whether or not it is ever charged — but could also face billions in fines and even jail time for its executives if it were found guilty of violating of the anti-corruption statute.
The Obama administration has stepped up enforcement of the FCPA in recent years, and one FCPA expert, Butler University Professor Mike Koehler, told the Guardian that he would be “very surprised” if U.S. authorities don’t become involved in the growing News Corp scandal.
This stepped up enforcement of the FCPA has not escaped the notice of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has reportedly received millions of dollars in funding from News Corp. The Chamber is now leading a high-profile campaign to weaken the landmark anti-bribery law.
On October 27, 2010, the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform held a summit at which it released a white paper outlining the Chamber’s suggestions for weakening the FCPA. After its 2010 summit, the Chamber began actively lobbying Congress to weaken the FCPA. In March of this year, the Chamber’s ILR hired marquee talent, former Bush administration Attorney General Michael Mukasey, to aid in its push to weaken the law. According to filings with the Senate, the Chamber’s ILR spent $6,030,000 lobbying on the FCPA and numerous other bills during the first quarter of 2011. During the 4th quarter of 2010, the Chamber’s ILR spent an additional $14,490,000 lobbying on the FCPA and other bills.
In addition to its own direct lobbying activities, the Chamber’s ILR engaged several lobbying firms during the first half of this year to help it push Congress to weaken the anti-bribery law, including Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, and Schreck; Hollier & Associates; Akin, Gump, Strauer, Hauer & Feld; and Debevoise & Plimpton (Mukasey’s firm).
The Chamber’s ILR, in its white paper, lamented the fact that the corporations would continue to be held accountable for their criminal activities:
Unfortunately for the business community, an active FCPA enforcement environment appears likely to continue.
Specifically citing the Chamber’s lamentations, the Republican-led House of Representatives is currently drafting a bill to weaken the FCPA. A hearing held last month by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who chairs the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, gave Chamber lobbyist Mukasey a platform to reiterate the Chamber’s ideas for weakening the anti-bribery law.
While any changes to the FCPA may come too late to help News Corp, it’s clear that the Chamber’s campaign to weaken the landmark anti-bribery law is already showing some early signs of success.