The Chamber’s New Lobbyist: Michael Mukasey

Michael MukaseyHoward Lipin/Zuma

The Chamber of Commerce has a new secret weapon for pushing back against federal anti-bribery laws: former Bush-era Attorney General Michael Mukasey. Politico reports that the business lobby has hired Mukasey to lead the charge to peel back enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which makes it illegal for US companies to pay bribes or offer any “thing of value” to foreign officials to promote a corporation’s interests.

The Chamber paid Mukasey’s law firm, Debevoise & Plimpton some $120,000 in the first half of 2011 to lobby on FCPA and other matters affecting US corporations. Business groups argue that FCPA enforcement under the Obama administration has been too stringent, stymying their ability to maintain profitability in a crowded global marketplace.

Mukasey, whose hiring by the Chamber was first reported by Main Justice, told Politico that the business community is mostly asking for the DOJ to clarify the law’s wording:

“In some countries, enterprises are state-owned, so everybody’s a foreign official. You take somebody out to dinner that’s intended to get you a competitive benefit and, boom: You get an investigation.”

“That said, nobody is looking to slacken in cases involving real bribery of public officials,” Mukasey added.

For its part, the Justice Department doesn’t see its enforcement of the FCPA as particularly onerous. But theren’s no question that there’s been an uptick in FCPA cases. During President Obama’s first two years in office, the DOJ pursued 74 prosecutions under the FCPA; that’s in contrast to the 38 during the last two years of the Bush administration. And the $1 billion recovered by the agency in corruption-related penalties in 2010 amounts to the largest in the history of FCPA enforcement.

Critics of the FCPA—including a small bipartisan group of lawmakers—say that these numbers put the law at odds with President Obama’s goal of doubling US exports by 2015. Meaning that if Congressional pressure ramps up, the Chamber’s efforts to dull the law could have legs.