Like a Rolling Stone and Charitable Donations Under the FCPA

Thomas Fox
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Like a Rolling StoneToday we celebrate one of the seminal achievements in rock and roll for it was on this day, 50 years ago, in 1965 that Bob Dylan recorded his single Like a Rolling Stone. Columbia Records executives initially rejected the song as too long to be released as a single because it came in at over 6 minutes in length. However, through a campaign of subterfuge, Dylan’s manager was able to have it played by New York City DJs. The popularity of the song became so great that the same Columbia Records executives were forced to release it and it went to Number 2 on the Top 40.

According to the site ThisDayInHistory.com, “The most important impact of “Like A Rolling Stone” was not commercial but creative. Rolling Stone magazine said Dylan “transformed popular song with the content and ambition of ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’” Or as Bruce Springsteen said of the first time he heard it, “[it] sounded like somebody’d kicked open the door to your mind.”” And my favorite part is the opening organ riffs played by a 21-year-old Al Kooper who was just sitting in on the session.

I thought about this odd convergence that came together to create what Rolling Stone magazine named as the greatest song of all time in 2004 in the context of the continuing fallout from the ongoing scandal involving the governing body of international soccer, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). In a BBC Online article, entitled “Fifa corruption: South Africa cash ‘worrisome”, Andrew Harding wrote “A key figure in South Africa’s football World Cup bid has broken ranks with the government to suggest there might be some truth to a claim that a $10m bribe was paid to secure the 2010 tournament.” That figure is Tokyo Sexwale who was “a member of both the World Cup bid team and local organising committee”. Sexwale has now questioned whether the $10MM payment made to Jack Warner of Trinidad was truly a donation.

Sexwale went on to ask, “”Where are the documents, where are the invoices, where are the budgets, where are the projects on the ground?””

I thought about those questions in the context of a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner working under a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or UK Bribery Act compliance program around charitable donations. There has been a paucity of FCPA enforcement actions around charitable donations. Both the Schering-Plough Corporation and Eli Lilly and Company enforcement actions centered in Poland were Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) civil enforcement actions based upon violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions to the FCPA. There was no evidence of bribes being paid which rose to criminal conduct.

Generally, it is assumed that if you do the required review of the charitable organization that is due to receive a corporate donation and in this due diligence, there is no tie to a government official or family member, the donation can be made under the FCPA. However consider Sexwale’s comments around the evidence of whether a bribe was paid to Warner or if it was simply because “part of the feeling at the time – it’s a good thing, this [$10MM of] altruism (towards the African diaspora in the Caribbean)”. Yet even Sexwale noted the problem when he added, “The question is going to be: “What was done to make sure that your good intentions – you as the giver – have been realised?””

His comments gave me pause to think that companies who make charitable donations in foreign countries may now have to monitor these donations at a greater level and with greater scrutiny. The starting point may now well be as stated by Sexwale, “What was done to make sure that your good intentions – you as the giver – have been realized?” If this is now a standard of enquiry and oversight the Department of Justice (DOJ) will require validation on how your company can have assurances that your good intentions are realized? Once again you can look to the basic questions that Sexwale posed in the BBC online article, Where are the documents, where are the invoices, where are the budgets, where are the projects on the ground?

There have been four Opinion Releases around charitable donations under the FPCA. Opinion Release 95-01 was a request from a US-based energy company that planned to donate $10MM for equipment and other costs to a medical complex that was under construction near a large construction project. Opinion Release 97-02 dealt with a request from a US-based utility company who planned to donate $100K for construction and other costs to a government entity that proposed to build an elementary school near a facility. Before releasing funds, the utility company required certain guarantees from the government regarding the project, including that the funds would be used exclusively for the school. Also, the donation was directly to the foreign government and not a charity. Opinion Release 06-01 dealt with money to fund a pilot project in which the US Company would contribute $25,000 to the in country Ministry of Finance to improve local enforcement of anti-counterfeiting laws. The contribution was intended to provide incentive awards to local customs officials, needed because the African country involved was a major transit point for illicit trade and the local customs officials have no incentive to prevent the contraband. Finally, Opinion Release 10-02focused on the underlying due diligence engaged in by a US-based Micro Financial Institution (MFI) operating in an unnamed Eurasian country. The Release specified the three levels of due diligence that the US MFI had engaged in on the proposed locals MFIs which were listed as eligible to receive the funding. In addition to the specific discussion of the due diligence performed by the US MFI and noting the controls it had put in place after the funding was scheduled to be made the DOJ also listed several of the due diligence and/or controls that it had previously set forth in prior Opinion Releases relating to charitable donations.

While these Opinion Releases certainly imply a level of scrutiny at the post donation level, their primary focus is on who the donations are being made to and are they a government official. However, the DOJ may well expect both pre and post donation scrutiny, along the lines of Sexwale’s questions, which could demonstrate the legitimacy of the donation. However Sexwale’s questions also raise up something that the DOJ and SEC often say, that being that a good anti-corruption compliance program is really just good business. Shareholders and investors have the right to know how and where their money is begin spent. It would seem to behoove any company to want to the know the same thing that Sexwale wants to know about the $10MM payment to Jack Warner, What was done to make sure that your good intentions – you as the giver – have been realized? 

To hear the original version of Like a Rolling Stone on YouTube, click here.

[view source.]

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Thomas Fox, Compliance Evangelist | Attorney Advertising

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