Is Bribery Always a Crime?

The murky depths of laws surrounding bribery are so misunderstood that many people are left questioning, “Is bribery always a crime?” The answer to that question demonstrates the clouded aspects of a democracy that assumes that laws apply equally to everyone in every walk of life. Though every nation has laws regarding bribery, those laws are misunderstood.

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There should not be any blame issued to those who believe that laws are meant for every citizen of a free nation. The concept of equality under the law is a fundamental proposition that binds a free society together. The slow development of trust in the institutions of a free nation comes from this central belief in the commitment to equal rights and responsibilities for every citizen. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that laws that only pertain to certain participants of a free society exists. One of those laws, or groups of laws, surround the act of bribery. As an example of bribery and the harm it produces, many of the original British government officials in the American colonies only acted on criminal activity when paid to do so. The refusal to act on laws written to the books by British citizens by officials unless paid influenced U.S.A. law development after the successful revolution. In the consciousness of every lawmaker was the example of Benedict Arnold, who as a respected fighting General of the Revolution attempted to accept a bribe to turn over West Point and George Washington and a significant portion of the Revolutionary Army leadership for cash led the Founding Fathers to consider bribery as a crime restricted to the public sector.

What is Bribery?

Bribery, as a prosecutable crime, is restricted to the public sector. According to, there are specific elements that characterize bribery. The person bribed is always a person who is a public official or someone with a public duty, such as fairness in sports or those who witness a crime. In return for an action or inaction, the person bribed must accept something of value. The public official or person witnessing a crime must have the authority to influence the act or crime, and the prosecution must prove the bribe is intended to influence the event.

What is the Effect of Bribery?

As pointed out in Forbes, the smallest act of bribery is a blight on any society. Small bribes lead to larger bribes that tear away at the fabric of a social order based on law. The smallest of bribes begin at the street level. A police officer who accepts a free cup of coffee at a restaurant or a free pastry at a deli as a “thank you for your service,” is accepting a small bribe under the definition of bribery. Rising above street level and roaming amongst corporate offices, the same attitude toward bribes creates larger and larger gifts of substance to recipients of the bribe.

Too Many Loopholes

People who responsibly ask, “Is bribery always a crime,” point to the political system and recent Supreme Court decisions as proof that bribery is not always a crime. Political contributions are not considered a crime, though large contributions are admittedly given to influence candidates. The fine line between bribery and civil rights is in no way murkier anywhere in a free society than in the political arena creating a fog of misunderstanding that perceptive persons find difficult to accept.