News Release ~ 07/25/2011

The ‘Clean Up Government Act’ What Could Be Wrong with That?

Washington, DC (July 25, 2011) – “It is difficult to stand up and publicly announce … being opposed to something that has been named the ‘Clean Up Government Act,’” says Timothy P. O’Toole, a member of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL). O’Toole will testify before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security tomorrow.

“Cleaning up” government – what could be wrong with that? But there are already more than 20 federal statutes currently being effectively used by federal prosecutors to curtail public corruption and fraud. With over 4,450 federal crimes on the books, and possibly tens of thousands of federal criminal regulations, “it is difficult to believe that existing federal, state and local criminal laws do not already reach all conduct that is properly criminal,” O’Toole observes. H.R. 2572, The Clean Up Government Act of 2011, however well-intended and nobly-named, will only further muddy the federal criminal code, creating confusion, costs to taxpayers, and needless harm to innocent public officials and institutions. “Before Congress passes new laws,” O’Toole says, “it should ask whether the law is necessary.”

WHAT: Hearing on H.R. 2572, the “Clean Up Government Act of 2011”
WHEN: Tuesday 7/26/2011 - 10:00 a.m.
WHERE: 2141 Rayburn House Office Building
Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security

The bill would also increase the maximum prison term for certain offenses. For example, Section 4 increases the maximum term for theft or bribery concerning receipt of federal funds, from 10 to 20 years. What could be wrong with that? The answer is there is simply no evidence that the current 10 year sentence fails to adequately punish and deter bribery, theft or embezzlement of federal money or property.

Another provision would expand the illegal gratuities portion of the federal bribery statute to prohibit giving anything to an official “for or because of … the person’s official position.” What could be wrong with that? Simply put, it would prohibit any gift no matter how small given to an official in recognition of his office. It would be a crime for a sports team to recognize the President with a team jersey. It would be a crime for a group of farmers to treat the Secretary of Agriculture to a lunch made from local products. In short, the proposed amendment would criminalize any gift given at any time to any public official in any situation that recognizes the public official as being a public official. Americans do not need to worry that sending a small gift to their congressman or postal carrier could send them and their postal carrier to prison.

The U.S. Supreme Court has circumscribed federal corruption laws in an attempt to separate harmless conduct from criminal influence. Before rushing to enact feel-good criminal legislation, Congress also needs to recognize the danger of ensnaring innocent citizens and officials with vague or overbroad criminal statutes.

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