For too long, Americans have woken up to headlines about another elected official under investigation for corruption – homes and offices raided, indictments announced, and more. 

The most recent headline-grabber? Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, for almost cartoonish corruption allegations involving gold bars and the government of Egypt. While people shake their heads at another politician doing another crime, it is clear to me that we can’t just rely on prosecutors and current laws to hold elected officials accountable – it’s time to rewrite corruption laws entirely. That’s why I wrote the bipartisan GOLD Standard Act.

Our country’s anti-corruption laws go back decades, but a 2016 Supreme Court decision (McDonnell v. United States) made it harder to go after politicians when they commit bribery. The case laid out by prosecutors involving former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell seemed open and shut: a tobacco company gave gifts to the governor, and in exchange, the governor held events promoting the company. But the Court inexplicably narrowed the definition of an “official act” when they overturned McDonnell’s multiple convictions that were handed down and affirmed by the lower courts. As a result, a number of former elected officials had their convictions tossed, and other bribery cases became harder to prosecute. 


A look at current federal law shows just how difficult this is. For example, current law does not recognize the offering of advice to be considered an “official act.” Therefore, a public official could not be charged under the federal bribery statute for receiving compensation for offering advice to a foreign party on a business transaction. This is obviously corruption, but it can’t be prosecuted because of the way the laws are currently written. In fact, since January 2023 alone, McDonnell has been cited 178 times in federal decisions, including by every federal circuit court, and in nine state court decisions across seven states. Essentially, these citations are used to narrowly interpret the federal bribery statute and ultimately vacate the charges.

This brings us to Sen. Bob Menendez. Sen. Menendez is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars – and even literal gold bars – in exchange for political favors. Common sense dictates that this is obviously corruption and definitely illegal. If someone was at their job and exchanged money from a rival company for information on their own company, they would be fired immediately. But Sen. Menendez is – for a second time, ironically – banking on the narrow definition of what an “official act” is to bail him out.


My GOLD Standard Act will begin to right these wrongs. The GOLD Standard Act is straightforward: any approval, disapproval, recommendation, rendering of advice or investigation on any question would be considered an “official act” made by a public official, and prosecutable under the federal bribery statute. 

The law would cover members of Congress, delegates, or resident commissioner, any federal employee, regardless of the branch of government involved, employees of the District of Columbia, federal jurors, and persons who are not federal employees but who have the power to allocate and expend federal monies under grant programs. 

Passing this bipartisan legislation would make it easier for the current charges of bribery, honest services wire fraud, extortion, and acting as an unregistered foreign agent of Egypt to stick to Sen. Menendez.

We deserve a government we can trust, with laws that make sense. Right now, the law contains major loopholes that make it easier for politicians to commit crimes and harder for us to prosecute them. It’s time we closed these loopholes and gave power back to prosecutors to go after corrupt officials. As Sen. Menendez’s case shows, we need to act now.

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