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An act, document, product, process or anything else sanctioned with legal efficacy through authorization by a public official. A public official is an individual elected or appointed to carry out a subset of the powers of the government. One salient area where the lines around what is “official” is in anti-bribery laws. Federal Anti-Bribery Law defines “official” as “any decision or action on any question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy, which may at any time be pending, or which may by law be brought before any public official, in such official’s official capacity, or in such official’s place of trust or profit.” It defines a “public official,” for federal purposes, as any “member of Congress, delegate, or resident commissioner, either before or after such official has qualified, or an officer or employee or person acting for or on behalf of the United States, or any department, agency or branch of government thereof, including the District of Columbia, in any official function, under or by authority of any such department, agency, or branch of government.” Recently, the Supreme Court elaborated on when an act if “official” for the purpose of Federal Anti-Bribery Law in McDonnell v. U.S. In the opinion, the Court required that, for an act to be “official,” the question or matter that is the subject of the decision or action must involve a “formal exercise of government power.” Setting up a meeting, talking to another official, or organizing an event, without anything more, does not constitute an official act, according to the Court. The public officer must take action on the matter, or agree to do so, the Court clarified.

An official may also be an officer of a corporation. For example, New York Corporate Fraud includes misconduct by “corporate officials,” and includes fraud furthered by a “director or officer of a stock corporation.” Thus, corporate officials may include members of the board of directors or management, such as the CEO or CFO.

[Last updated in September of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]