Politicians, government officials and other public figures are held to a pretty high standard of behavior. When they violate that standard, it can be more than just an ethical failing. It can lead to serious criminal charges.
That’s why if you hold a public office or any kind of government job, you need to make sure that you clearly understand the difference between a bribe and a gift.
A bribe involves an exchange of some kind
Generally, a gift is something that is freely given with no “strings” (conditions) attached. For example, a coffee shop owner might tell a police officer that their first cup of coffee in the morning is “on the house” just because they appreciate what they do every day. As long as there is no expectation of some return favor from the officer expected, that’s just a gift.
A bribe, however, involves some kind of exchange, with something of value being traded for influence over how the public official handles their job. It’s important to note that the actual exchange doesn’t have to take place. Merely promising to give that thing of value or agreeing to receive it in exchange for some favor is enough to constitute bribery.
For example, if the coffee shop owner gives that same police officer whatever they order every day for free with the understanding that the officer will give their shop priority attention and better protection than other businesses in the area, that would be a bribe. (If the police officer demanded such payment for their services, that would be extortion, which is an associated crime.)
Allegations of public corruption can ruin your reputation, your livelihood and your future. If you’ve been charged with giving or receiving a bribe, you need to take quick steps to protect your rights.