Lobbying and Bribery: The Fine Line between Legal and Illegal Influence

Many arguments have been made whether a difference exists between lobbying and bribery. There are those who feel that lobbying is a form of polished and sophisticated bribery, whereas others are of the view that a clear line of demarcation exists between the two. This essay is going to look at the differences between lobbying and bribery and what legislations in the United States of America treat the two.

The story carried by the Washington Post on January 15, 1999, brought to the fore the arguments supporting or refuting the differences between bribery and lobbying. The paper reported that lobbyists of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games have been accused of bribery in their efforts to influence the members of the International Olympics’ Committee (Washington Post, 1999).

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The story reveals that a fine line which is sometimes blurred separates lobbying from bribery. Lobbying can be conceptualized as efforts to influence politicians and other key individuals to make decisions on ones favor (Atkinson, 2008). On the other hand, bribing is also described as efforts to influence politicians and other key individuals to make decisions on one’s favor. However, the difference between the two is the fact that lobbyists offer no money or gifts.

But the main motivator in bribery is the offer or promise of money and property by the individual (United States Department of Justice, 2008). This means that lobbying is legal and is carried out overtly. In contrast, legislations such as Foreign Corrupt Practices Act illegalize and criminalize bribery. Bribery is mainly carried out covertly (Rich & Janos, 2004).

The SLOC members may respond to the bribery allegations by maintaining that they were lobbying and were not involved in bribery activities. They can do this by proving that they did not cross the thin line separating lobbying and bribery. This they can do by arguing that the payments they might have made to the IOC officials were not meant to influence the latter to favor their cause (Herz & Larson, 2004).

The SLOC lobbyists may use the definition of knowledge as provided for in the 1988 amendments of FCPA. This is by arguing that they were not aware that their conduct may influence the IOC officials to award Salt Lake City the rights to host the games.

By proving this, the officials are likely to negate the fact that they were involved in bribery. For example, they may argue that when they offered medical treatment for hepatitis to one of the officials, they were not aware of the fact that the official may vote in their favor and grant Salt Lake City the rights.

The question regarding the appropriate punishment for the violation of ethical and legal principles persists. There are those who argue that individuals who have been proved beyond doubt to have violated the principles, but who prove beyond doubt that they had no intentions to do so, should not be punished.

However, it is my view that ignorance should never be used as a defense for such violations. The offenders should be dealt with accordingly and in line with the provisions of the particular offence committed. For example, if the individual has violated the FCPA provision attracting a certain amount of fine, they should be appropriately fined. This is to deter future offenders.

The remedies for violation of ethical and legal principles should be limited to the expulsion of the members who have violated them. The entire community should be held responsible. This is given the fact that as much as the members may have instigated the violations, they were not in it alone. Many factors led to the violation.

For example, if the SLOC members failed to secure the rights to host the Olympics, the whole community would have condemned them. This expectation and pressure from the community may have led to their actions. As such, the whole community is to blame.

In conclusion, it is important to note that it is sometimes very hard for the prosecution to prove that an individual accused of bribery did in fact act illegally.

This is given the fact that a connection should be made between the individual’s acts and violation of law. Given that many bribery dealings are not recorded, proof may be hard to come by. However, this does not negate the fact that bribery is a violation of a legal and ethical principle in the society.


Atkinson, B. M. (2008). Lobbying and bribery: The fine line between. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Herz, P. J., & Larson, R. K. (2004). Keeping bribery at bay: Firms subject to the US FCPA are legally bound to prevent illegal payments. The Internal Auditor, 2(5), 73-78.

Rich, B. R., & Janos, L. (2004). Skunk works: A personal memoir of my years at Lockheed. 3rd Edition. New York: Little Brown & Co.

United States Department of Justice. (2008). Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Retrieved October 03, 2010, from http://www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa/

Washington Post, the. (1999). The big business of the Olympics and bribery. January 15, 1999.


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