New legislation would help the US crack down on corruption abroad

The CROOK Act takes aim at kleptocracies that harm democratic efforts, helping fund anti-corruption measures.

The CROOK Act, named in honor of Russia's ruling kleptocratic regime, will help the U.S. fund anti-corruption efforts elsewhere. CREDIT: VALERY SHARIFULIN / GETTY
The CROOK Act, named in honor of Russia's ruling kleptocratic regime, will help the U.S. fund anti-corruption efforts elsewhere. CREDIT: VALERY SHARIFULIN / GETTY

A new, bipartisan bill introduced in the House last week aims to help the U.S. pump up funding for anti-corruption efforts elsewhere — and help slow the rise of kleptocratic networks eroding democracies abroad.

Introduced by Rep. Bill Keating (D-MA) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), the Countering Russian and Other Overseas Kleptocracy Act — known as the CROOK Act — would provide an innovative solution to helping the U.S. move beyond mere pro-democracy statements. Where prior U.S. administrations had lent anti-corruption efforts abroad rhetorical support, the CROOK Act would instead provide much-needed funding to pro-democracy activists and politicians abroad to beef up their investigative capacities, improve their anti-corruption networks, and tamp down on the types of kleptocratic regimes that have taken root in places like Russia.

“Russia and other authoritarian states have weaponized corruption, and exposing and countering that malign influence needs to be a priority,” Keating said in a statement. “The CROOK Act will help prevent Russian and other forms of kleptocracy from eroding democracy, security, and rule of law.” 

The CROOK Act proposes the creation of a brand new anti-corruption fund. The new fund would receive funding from fines and penalties brought under the U.S.’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which currently criminalizes American entities offering bribes to foreign governments and individuals. The CROOK Act proposes that 5 percent of all FCPA fines be re-routed to funding the anti-corruption fund. That would likely result in millions of dollars annually available for the fund.


The State Department would oversee the fund, which the bill says would be dedicated to “fight[ing] public corruption” and helping “develop rule of law-based governance structures, including accountable investigative, prosecutorial, and judicial bodies.” The bill would also set up an anti-corruption point of contact in American embassies abroad to help provide information on anti-corruption efforts and requests.

Not only would the CROOK Act provide for the creation of a mechanism for directly financing anti-corruption efforts, but it would also allow the U.S. to act quickly against foreign corrupt networks. Candidates for accessing the money in the anti-corruption fund including countries “that are undergoing historic opportunities for democratic transition, combating corruption, and the establishment of the rule of law.” Moldova could be a candidate: Recent political developments saw the ouster of the country’s most notorious kleptocrat, and a new government has already pledged to prioritize wholesale anti-corruption efforts.

“Opportunities for the establishment of the rule of law are rare and success requires that the United States act quickly when reformers come to power and seek to root out corruption,” added Fitzpatrick. 


Backed by the Helsinki Commission, an independent U.S. federal agency focusing on human rights and pro-democracy policies, the CROOK Act joins a raft of other anti-corruption bills recently pushed in Congress. 

Another bill, for instance, permits the Secretary of State to publicize all foreign officials and individuals barred from the U.S. on account of corruption allegations, while another would eliminate the formation of anonymous shell companies in the U.S. — a favorite of corrupt networks at home and abroad. 

Taken together, the bills present a renewed effort by Congress to tackle the kind of kleptocratic networks and practices that injected themselves into the U.S.’s 2016 election and which continue to threaten American interests abroad.