Blog / / 10.07.21

Why the Combating Global Corruption Act Matters

By Brad Brooks-Rubin, Senior Advisor to The Sentry


Congress is busy these days. Debt ceiling/spending bills, infrastructure negotiations, Afghanistan and January 6 hearings, and on and on. But under the national headline radar, important provisions to continue the fight against kleptocracy are moving forward through one of the few bills that Congress passes every year: the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Sentry, along with a diverse group of civil society organizations, is supporting the new Caucus Against Foreign Corruption and Kleptocracy and advocating for the inclusion of these counter-kleptocracy provisions in this year’s NDAA.

Even within the series of counter-kleptocracy provisions, one bill remains under the radar: the bipartisan Combating Global Corruption Act (CGCA), introduced by Senators Cardin (D-MD) and Young (R-IN) in the Senate and Representatives Malinowski (D-NJ) and Salazar (R-FL) in the House. If passed, this would provide critical tools for the US and allied governments, international and local civil society organizations, journalists, and local populations to hold government officials accountable for failing to address corruption effectively.

Other provisions moving forward in the NDAA take arguably more dramatic and direct action, like publicly banning kleptocrats from entering the US, pursuing stolen assets, and focusing on the “Navalny 35.” But the CGCA would do several important things that, although seemingly just bureaucratic, could undergird stronger efforts over the long term to affect corruption and kleptocracy. Specifically, the CGCA would:

  • Create a 3-tier rating system for assessing countries on their efforts to combat corruption.
  • Establish 12 specific standards (plus a 13th catchall) that the Department of State would use in making its assessments. These standards not only include whether a country has and enforces laws against corruption, cooperates with international investigations, and adheres to global conventions, but they also reinforce the importance of ensuring safe space for civil society and highlight key areas where fighting corruption is essential, such as military spending, trade delegations, and foreign direct investment.
  • Require the State Department, in coordination with the Department of the Treasury, to create a report on potential Global Magnitsky sanctions targets in Tier 3 countries (and related to Nord Stream 2).
  • Direct the State Department to establish anti-corruption contact points at diplomatic missions in countries that are deemed noncompliant with the anti-corruption standards (i.e., in Tier 2 or Tier 3).

Critics may yawn and say that this type of assessment, reporting, and diplomatic engagement is nothing to be excited about it, as it already exists for other issues—human rights, human trafficking, and religious freedom most specifically—and one could hardly say that the world now sees greater respect for human rights or less human trafficking as a result. Such critics are not entirely wrong.

But these types of provisions are pieces of a much bigger puzzle of solutions. Corruption and kleptocracy are far too endemic and multifaceted for one or two policy actions to resolve them. The detailed information required for the assessments will result in the invaluable collection and dissemination of information by the US government. The appointment of contact points will ensure that our diplomats not only prioritize anti-corruption but also serve as critical allies for civil society and others in foreign countries seeking to counter corruption. And no matter how a government feels about the United States from a diplomatic perspective, no country ever wants to be in Tier 3 of a rating. The 13-point assessment criteria will not only make it harder for an administration to avoid dealing with politically sensitive countries—from Saudi Arabia to South Africa to Brazil—but also less likely that such governments will be able to push back on the reporting, given its specificity.

Most importantly, unlike the human trafficking or human rights reports, with either no direct connection to policy actions or waivers that allow the US government to avoid making hard decisions with respect to foreign assistance, the CGCA focuses on specific action. By requiring the State and Treasury Departments to develop and present a report on Global Magnitsky sanctions targets they have acted against or considered, the agencies are more pointedly on the hook to act.

Global Magnitsky sanctions—which another NDAA provision would reauthorize—that result from these reports will also not end corruption, but combined with the information, rankings, and diplomatic engagement, the CGCA will advance policy in a clear and tangible way. Please join The Sentry and other organizations in letting your member of Congress know that this act should not remain under the radar for long.