Re-Examining the “McDonnell Problem”: Federal Prosecutors’ Ample Room to Prosecute State and Local Government Corruption

By Ourania S. Yancopoulos

Historically, states have relied on the federal government to prosecute corruption involving their public officials and employees. In McDonnell v. United States, however, the Supreme Court purported to limit the definition of “official act” as used in the federal bribery, honest services fraud, and Hobbs Act extortion statutes—three of the Government’s most potent tools against public corruption. Many observers concluded that the ruling would obstruct or all but end the federal prosecution of government corruption at the state and local levels. To test this claim, this Note presents and analyzes a novel dataset of hundreds of prosecutions in five federal districts in the six years before and after McDonnell. The data show that federal prosecutors in these districts have neither stopped charging nor convicting state and local government corruption. Together with an assessment of post-McDonnell case law, this Note concludes that claims of the so-called “McDonnell Problem” are overstated.

Download Article

Download Underlying Data

Download Key and Raw Data