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Cameo Corruption, Part II: Valuating a Film Role

In the first post of this series, I talked about the possibility that political cameos, if used abroad, might serve as an alternative method of corruption. It makes sense to begin the inquiry by valuating a cameo. After all, if a brief appearance on screen isn’t worth much, then it’s unlikely to induce a foreign official to abuse her discretion.

We know that the DOJ recognizes that bribes can consist of a wide range of benefits – essentially, anything of value, except for relatively insignificant gifts that have a legitimate business purpose. As helpful as the recently published DOJ guidance is, predictably, it doesn’t specifically address a narrow topic like cameos.

Though it’s hard to ascertain the true value of a film role to a public official, an appearance should easily qualify as valuable enough for FCPA purposes. Within the U.S., politicians have received royalties for their appearances. For example, for his minor roles in the Batman films, Senator Patrick Leahy has earned more than $10,000 in royalties. While all of these proceeds have been donated to a library in Leahy’s home state, the example indicates that officials can derive a monetary benefit from a cameo.

Even without any direct or indirect pecuniary benefit, however, a film role may have value. A politician undoubtedly gains at least some amount of publicity for appearing on screen. If the U.S. government didn’t think so, it wouldn’t have created laws restricting candidates’ airtime during campaign season. That’s because every appearance can be valuable in an electoral race. During the 2012 presidential election, 30-second ad spots in a battleground state such as Colorado ranged from $900 to $45,000. While campaign ads cost money, a politician could avoid these costs through a cameo. And while the politician might not have the flexibility to directly convey her desired message, the appearance is nevertheless likely to have positive public relations effects.

But even if we choose to ignore the potential publicity-related benefits a cameo could have, an argument could be made that a film appearance may confer intangible benefits. Simply put, a cameo is “cool.” For someone like Senator Leahy, who has admitted to being an avid Batman fan, an opportunity to appear in film adaptations of the comics certainly has at least some sentimental value.

With the broad interpretation of “anything of value,” film roles almost certainly are valuable enough to surpass the FCPA’s threshold. And because a cameo is never something that falls within a politician’s official capacity, it’s much harder to justify a cameo as an expense related to the ordinary conduct of business.
In the next installment of this series, we’ll see if a filmmaker really derives the type of benefit from a political cameo that would subject her to the FCPA.

Part I of this series is here.


Ilya Zlatkin is a recent graduate of the University of Richmond School of Law and holds degrees in economics and foreign affairs from the University of Virginia. He is currently awaiting the results of the Illinois bar exam and is in the process of becoming a Certified Fraud Examiner. He can be contacted here.