Bribery is the act of giving money, goods or other forms of recompense to a recipient in exchange for an alteration of their behavior (to the benefit/interest of the giver) that the recipient would otherwise not alter. Bribery is defined by Black’s Law Dictionary as the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of any item of value to influence the actions of an official or other person in charge of a public or legal duty.
Gifts of money or other items of value which are otherwise available to everyone on an equivalent basis, and not for dishonest purposes, is not bribery. Offering a discount or a refund to all purchasers is a legal rebate and is not bribery. For example, it is legal for an employee of a Public Utilities Commission involved in electric rate regulation to accept a rebate on electric service that reduces their cost for electricity, when the rebate is available to other residential electric customers. If the rebate was done to influence them to look favorably on the electric utility’s rate increase applications, however, that would be bribery, and unlawful.
The bribe is the gift bestowed to influence the recipient’s conduct. It may be money, goods, rights in action, property, preferment, privilege, emolument, objects of value, advantage, or merely a promise to induce or influence the action, vote, or influence of a person in an official or public capacity.
In economics, the bribe has been described as rent. Bribery in bureaucracy has been viewed as a reason for the higher cost of production of goods and services.
Many types of payments or favors can constitute bribes: tip, gift, sop, perk, skim, favor, discount, waived fee/ticket, free food, free ad, free trip, free tickets, sweetheart deal, kickback/payback, funding, inflated sale of an object or property, lucrative contract, donation, campaign contribution, fundraiser, sponsorship/backing, higher paying job, stock options, secret commission, or promotion (rise of position/rank).
One must be careful of differing social and cultural norms when examining bribery. Expectations of when a monetary transaction is appropriate can differ from place to place. Political campaign contributions in the form of cash, for example, are considered criminal acts of bribery in some countries, while in the United States, provided they adhere to election law, are legal.
Politicians receive campaign contributions and other payoffs from powerful corporations, organizations or individuals in return for making choices in the interests of those parties, or in anticipation of favorable policy, also referred to as lobbying. This is not illegal in the United States and forms a major part of campaign finance, though it is sometimes referred to as the money loop. Convictions for this form of bribery are easier to obtain with hard evidence, that is a specific amount of money linked to a specific action by the bribed. Such evidence is frequently obtained using undercover agents, since evidence of a quid pro quo relation difficult to prove. See also influence peddling and political corruption. Recent evidence suggests that demands for bribes can adversely impact citizen level of trust and engagement with the political process.