United States Office of Government Ethics, Preventing Conflicts of Interest in the Executive Branch

18 U.S.C. § 201: Bribery of public officials and witnesses

18 U.S.C. § 201 proscribes bribery and the acceptance of certain gratuities. The U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Sun-Diamond Growers of California, 526 U.S. 398, 404-405 (1999), describes the two crimes as follows:

"The first crime, described in § 201(b)(1) as to the giver, and § 201(b)(2) as to the recipient, is bribery, which requires a showing that something of value was corruptly given, offered, or promised to a public official (as to the giver) or corruptly demanded, sought, received, accepted, or agreed to be received or accepted by a public official (as to the recipient) with intent, inter alia, 'to influence any official act' (giver) or in return for 'being influenced in the performance of any official act' (recipient). The second crime, defined in § 201(c)(1)(A) as to the giver, and § 201(c)(1)(B) as to the recipient, is illegal gratuity, which requires a showing that something of value was given, offered, or promised to a public official (as to the giver), or demanded, sought, received, accepted, or agreed to be received or accepted by a public official (as to the recipient), 'for or because of any official act performed or to be performed by such public official.' 

The distinguishing feature of each crime is its intent element. Bribery requires intent 'to influence' an official act or 'to be influenced' in an official act, while illegal gratuity requires only that the gratuity be given or accepted 'for or because of' an official act. In other words, for bribery there must be a quid pro quo a specific intent to give or receive something of value in exchange for an official act. An illegal gratuity, on the other hand, may constitute merely a reward for some future act that the public official will take (and may already have determined to take), or for a past act that he has already taken."

The U.S. Office of Government Ethics does not render opinions on 18 U.S.C. § 201, but may provide links to relevant information about the topic, when appropriate.