Corruption today often involves the sale of access, positioning the buyer in a prime position to influence governmental decision making. The prosecution of Robert McDonnell, who admitted facilitating the sale of such access for gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams, depended on the definition of "official action." Emphasizing the "quo" of a quid pro quo exchange, the Supreme Court vacated McDonnell's conviction because he did not take an "official action" even though he arranged meetings, encouraged subordinates to act, and hosted a party for the launch of Williams's product at the Governor's mansion. This Note identifies the Court's dramatic shift towards narrowing bribery to explicit quid pro quo transactions and argues that soft, or implicit, quid pro quo arrangements are equally corrupting. The reciprocity norm operates like an unspoken social contract, obligating recipients of gifts and favors to reciprocate, even without an agreed-upon exchange. Furthermore, politicians are socialized by their political environment towards reciprocating behavior. The Court erred by not acknowledging the psychological realities associated with the flow of gifts from Williams to McDonnell. This Note proposes a broader definition of "official action" and the framework surrounding it to better protect against subtle corruption by erecting structural barriers.
Paciorek, Michael J., "Tawdry Tales: The Psychological Underpinnings of Corruption and Gifts to Public Officials" (2017). Connecticut Law Review. 370.