Many in the global fight against government corruption worry early signals sent by the Trump administration could undercut that effort. Trump’s signing of a law repealing disclosure requirements for oil and gas companies operating abroad, his numerous conflicts of interest, and his steadfast refusal to release his federal tax returns are seen as signs the US federal government may no longer be the global transparency and anti-corruption role model it has been for years.
The US has historically taken a lead role in rooting out corruption worldwide. The US Justice Department, for example, led the investigation into the FIFA scandal, which eventually brought about the indictment of more than a dozen officials. Government enforcers use the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) to deter multinational companies and individuals from bribing foreign officials to obtain business abroad and to punish those that do. And the federal government has also pushed back hard against bank-secrecy laws that protect tax evaders. Finally, the US has tied aid to poor countries to promises of good governance, transparency, and economic freedom.
Although episodes of government corruption certainly exists in the U.S.—just ask those living in Illinois or Louisiana for starters—the US federal government has long been held up globally as a place where financial disclosure is the norm. The country’s role model status is also a result of its long standing, well-established democratic systems and strong institutions. Transparency International ranks the United States 18 out of 176 countries, and gives it an overall score of 74 out of one hundred where 0 is highly corrupt and one hundred is very clean. But the organization is now sounding alarm bells about potential red flags, including potential conflicts of interest posed Trump’s “gold-plated son-in-law,” and the danger populist leaders pose to anti-corruption efforts and social equality.
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