corrupt practices, in politics, fraud connected with elections. The term also refers to various offenses by public officials, including bribery, the sale of offices, granting of public contracts to favored firms or individuals, and granting of land or franchises in return for monetary rewards. Election fraud may consist of efforts to influence or intimidate the voter or to tamper with the official ballot or election count. To eliminate these practices nearly all democratic nations have passed laws that attempt to safeguard the honesty of political campaigns, elections, and officials. In Great Britain the Acts of 1883 and 1918, frequently amended, define election abuses and limit political spending by or on behalf of candidates for Parliament. In the United States individual states have their own election laws, preceding federal statutes. In large cities of the United States election fraud has historically been associated with political machines (see bossism). On the federal level, the Corrupt Practices Act of 1925, the Hatch Act of 1940, parts of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, and the campaign financing legislation of 1974 were attempts to limit campaign spending and the size of contributions. Requiring public disclosure and providing public funding of the presidential campaign were in response to abuses connected with secret campaign funds used in the 1972 presidential election (see Watergate affair). Subsequently, the Senate and the House established ethics committees and codes of conduct, and required public accounting of income and campaign contributions. The Ethics Act of 1978 and the stricter Government Ethics Reform Act of 1989 bar top government officials from lobbying private corporations or other governments for specified periods after leaving office. The latter act also bars former executive branch officials, congressmen, and their staff members from trying to influence senior employees in their former branches for one year after they leave office. These reforms, however, have not prevented the proliferation of Political Action Committees, a marked increase in campaign spending, and the creative use of loopholes, such as "soft money" for party-building, with no contribution limits. The term "corrupt practices" has also been applied to businesses and labor unions, in the former case for price fixing, and in the latter for misappropriation of funds or the rigging of union elections.
See G. Thayer, Who Shakes the Money Tree? American Campaign Financing Practices from 1789 to the Present (1973); M. Clarke, ed., Corruption (1984); W. J. Chambliss, On the Take (2d ed. 1988); P. M. Stern, The Best Congress Money Can Buy (1988); Congressional Quarterly Editorial Research Reports (1989); M. P. and P. Glazer, The Whistleblowers (1989).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.