Private Actors and Public Corruption: Why Courts Should Adopt a Broad Interpretation of the Hobbs Act

Megan DeMarco*

Federal prosecutors routinely charge public officials with “extortion under color of official right” under a public-corruption statute called the Hobbs Act. To be prosecuted under the Hobbs Act, a public official must promise official action in return for a bribe or kickback. The public official, however, does not need to have actual authority over that official action. As long as the victim reasonably believed that the public official could deliver or influence government action, the public official violated the Hobbs Act. Private citizens also solicit bribes in return for influencing official action. Yet most courts do not think the Hobbs Act applies to private citizens, even those who also create and exploit a belief that they have the ability to influence official action. This Note argues that interpreting “extortion under color of official right” to exclude private actors is incorrect. The test for anyone acting under color of official right should be whether the victim reasonably believes that person can influence official action.

*J.D., May 2016, University of Michigan Law School. Many thanks to Professor Gabriel Mendlow and MLR Vol. 113 Notes Editor Brian Howe for overseeing this piece from the beginning. Thanks also to the many Vol. 115 editors who contributed hard work and insightful edits, especially Erin Chapman, Andrew Kramer, Claire Lally, Thomas Martecchini, Andi Scanlan, and Matthew Wallace. And finally, thanks to my MLR support system: Tim Ford, Mary Miller, and Sommer Engels.

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