If Americans are more comfortable living in a world of bribery, perhaps it’s because American jurisprudence has legalized so much of it. One accelerant was Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in the Citizens United case, in 2010. Kennedy gave the Supreme Court’s official sanction to anonymous campaign contributions, overturning a long trajectory of reforms that prodded the political system in the direction of transparency and rigid limits. Kennedy’s decision made tracing how political giving shapes political decisions nearly impossible. But it was even worse than that. Kennedy’s justification officially circumscribed the legal definition of bribery, constraining it to encompass only the most explicit bribes and quid pro quos.
He scrubbed away the Founders’ concern with the corrupting influence of gifts, which had been enshrined in the Constitution.