The Public Interest

The Risks of Corruption

Philip B. Heymann

Fall 1987

LAW-ENFORCEMENT authorities, prosecutors, and investigators do three things. They prosecute acts that are very widely regarded as harmful and immoral as well as illegal. In choosing among the possible candidates in this category the central criterion is probably a general sense of moral outrage at what was done. More rarely, they attempt to catch particular individuals or organizations who they believe are engaged in serious, ongoing criminal behavior and bring whatever charges can sensibly and fairly be brought against such individuals or groups. Here the focus is likely to be based on a judgment of dangerousness. Extremely rarely, they are charged with carrying out a program designed to deal with a problem the legislature has identified. Perhaps the problem of bribes paid by American corporations to foreign officials and the congressional determination to stop that practice in the late seventies is an example.  Often, of course, there is some overlap in the three categories, particularly between the first two. The fact that the third is extremely rare accounts for the almost complete absence of legislative consideration of programs for law-enforcement authorities of the sort that Professor Maass urges.

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