Corruption and Whistleblowers


The term “corruption” is a lexis derivative of “corrupt.” The verbiage finds its linguistic origins in 11th-century Anglo-French Middle English. Its Latin predecessor is “corruptus,” which denotes a breaking into pieces. In contemporary society, the common meaning of “corruption” carries similar connotations of deterioration or breakdown. 

In contemporary American jurisprudence, the concept of corruption contemplates a broad range of unethical, fraudulent, and dishonest conduct. It may occur in many different contexts. The common underlying characteristic, however, is unfair gain or benefit. The abuse of positional or official authority is the common underlying theme of corruption.

Dual Contexts

Corruption can be dichotomized into two basic designations: “Political” and “Corporate. “ As its title insinuates, political corruption implicates governmental involvement. Whether in local municipalities or federal bureaucracies, political corruption occurs when governmental power or authority is used for private gain.

Political Corruption

Formal definitions of political corruption differ among jurisdictions. For example, certain political fund-raising activities are legally sanctioned in some locales while prohibited in others. Neither is all government-related misconduct political corruption. 

Abuses of official authority or position for reasons other than private gain are not political corruption. Examples include police brutality or unethical subjugation of political opponents. Although improper and committed by government actors, such conduct is not motivated by direct private gain. Thus, it falls outside the scope of political corruption.

Conversely, examples of other misconduct clearly falling within the scope of political corruption include: extortion; nepotism; embezzlement; bribery; cronyism; extortion; graft, and patronage. In all such backdrops, undue private enrichment results from the corruption at issue. Often, political corruption facilities criminal enterprise such as money laundering, white slavery, or drug trafficking.

Corporate Corruption

Corruption is not limited to the public sector. Corporate corruption connotes abuse of private position or authority for unmerited benefit. Known variously as “private corruption” or “business corruption,” corporate corruption encompasses misconduct and abuses by private commercial concerns. Economic enrichment is the common motivator underlying all corporate corruption.

In the arena of qui tam jurisprudence, such unjust enrichment may occur directly or indirectly. An example of “direct” corporate corruption would be submitting falsified documents to Medicaid for reimbursement of services or procedures that were never rendered or performed. 

A notable instance of “indirect” corporate corruption failure is the failure to employ legally-mandated safety devices or product packaging. In such cases, offending businesses receive no quantifiable government payment. Nonetheless, the underlying motive for noncompliance is avoiding monetary outlays that compliance would entail. 

The Bottom Line

Regardless of whether corrupt acts are committed by private or public actors, and irrespective of whether resulting gain is direct or indirect, society loses.

The public has a right to expect highest integrity from those whom it entrusts with valuable resources. The same is true of businesses that produce vital consumer products such as prescription drugs or engage in national security-related functions.

Regardless of the specific backdrop within which it occurs, corruption is a major threat to public safety and security. Those who are aware of corruption at any level should take appropriate steps immediately. Contact an attorney competent in False Claims Act litigation. Deterrence, prevention, and discontinuance of all corruption are essential to our continued success as a society and a nation.