Wednesday, June 30, 2010

BP Execs are School Kids Compared to These Slimy Oil Guys

According to this story in The Guardian, executives of a UK oil company, formerly known as Octel, are about to be extradited to the US to face bribery charges. Octel manufactured a lead-based fuel additive that was banned decades ago in most of the developed world. The company continued to produce it, however, because developing countries were slow to mandate unleaded gasoline. Today, only one country in the world - Iraq - continues to put lead in its gasoline, using Octel's product. The Octel executives are charged with bribing Iraqi officials not to regulate lead. The bribes amounted to multi-millions of dollars. Simply put, the Octel executives, and US hedge fund managers who invested heavily in Octel, made millions of dollars by bribing Iraqi officials (and goodness knows who else) to ignore the huge health risks especially to children from exposure to highly toxic airborne lead.

My only question is this: What's the difference between an illegal bribe of a government official and a lawful corporate campaign contribution under the US Supreme Court's recent ruling in Citizens United? As a law prof I probably should know the answer (even though this is not my field), but the legal distinction has gotten  a bit blurry since the Court essentially equated campaign contributions with speech.

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