Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Corruption Definition:

The use of public office for private gain.

Related Terms: Bribery

In their 1910 law dictionary, authors Shumaker and Longsdorf described corruption as

"... an act done with intent to give some advantage inconsistent with official duty and the rights of others. It includes bribery but is more comprehensive because an act may be corruptly done, though the advantage to be derived from it may be offered by another."

In her 2011 article on corruption published in the Canadian law journal, The Advocate, Karen Katz writes;

"Corruption is understood to be the exploitation of a position of trust, typically in the public sector, in order to receive a private gain, which may or may not be financial.

"Corruption is not a simple issue of right and wrong, and conditions that encourage public officials to seek out or accept corruption include (a) the expected gains from undertaking a corrupt act exceed the expected costs and (b) little weight is placed on the costs that corruption imposes on others.

"The most common form of corruption is bribery...."

In their 2000 article, Huther and Shahl suggest:

"... three broad varieties of corruption ... (a) bureaucratic or petty corruption - vast number of public officials (bureaucrats and politicians) abusing public office often extracting small bribes or favors; (b) grand corruption - theft or misuse of vast amount of public funds by a relatively small number of officials; and (c) state capture or regulatory capture - collusion among public and private agents for private benefit....

"(C)orruption will only take place when officials expect to derive net positive benefit from the transaction."

In Nixon v Shrink Missouri Gove, Justice Souter of the United States Supreme Court used these words:

"Corruption is a subversion of the political process. Elected officials are influenced to act contrary to their obligations of office by the prospect of financial gain to themselves or infusions of money into their campaigns."


  • Jeff Huther, Jeff and Shahl, Anwar, Anti-corruption Policies and Programs: A Framework for Evaluation, The World Bank, Operations Evaluation Department, Country Evaluation and Regional Relations Division, December 2000 (Policy Research Working Paper)
  • Katz, Karen, Here Comes the Bribe: Canada's efforts to Combat Corruption in International Business, 69 Adv. 501 (2011). In her article, Ms Katz relies on Huther and Shahl op. cit.
  • Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government, 528 US 377 (2000)
  • Shumaker, Walter and Longsdorf, George Foster, The Cyclopedic Dictionary of Law Comprising the Terms and Phrases of American Jurisprudence, Including Ancient and Modern Common Law, International Law, and Numerous Select Titles From the Civil Law, the French and the Spanish Law, Etc., Etc. With an Exhaustive Collection of Legal Maxims, (St. Paul, Minnesota: Keefe-Davidson Law Book Company, 1901), page 210.

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