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Bribery is defined generally as corrupt solicitation, acceptance, or transfer of value in exchange for official action.


Bribery refers to the offering, giving, soliciting, or receiving of any item of value as a means of influencing the actions of an individual holding a public or legal duty. This type of action results in matters that should be handled objectively being handled in a manner best suited to the private interests of the decision maker. As such, bribery constitutes a crime and both the offeror and the recipient can be criminally charged.


Proof of bribery requires demonstrating a “quid pro quo” relationship in which the recipient directly alters behavior in exchange for the gift. Because the relationship does not occur directly enough, campaign donations from corporations or individuals to political candidates do not constitute bribery. Another element of proving bribery includes proving intent to influence the discharge of another’s official duties. Some statutes also require proof that both parties understand and agree to the arrangement. 

Attempts to bribe exist at common law and under the Model Penal Code, and often, the penalty for attempted bribery and completed bribery are identical. Solicitation of a bribe also constitutes a crime and is completed regardless of whether the solicitation results in the receipt of a valuable gift. 


Economists consider bribery to negatively impact economic growth because it encouraged rent seeking behavior. Rent seeking behavior refers to an individual’s or corporation’s attempt to illicitly influence the open market in order to provide that individual or corporation with a disproportionate amount of wealth. Such an environment results in a sub-optimal allocation of resources, which results in depressed economic growth.

Violators may be prosecuted under federal statute 18 U.S.C. 201 - Bribery.

See also: White-collar crime.

See e.g., United States v. NG Lap Seng 934 F.3d 110 (2019)

[Last updated in June of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]