Bribery, as defined by Black's Law Dictionary, is "The receiving or offering of any undue reward by or to any person whomsoever, whose ordinary profession or business related to the administration of public justice, in order to influence his behavior in office, and to incline him to act contrary to his duty and the known rules of honesty and integrity." Put in other words, bribery is the use of money to induce another with power and official, legal responsibility not to abuse that power, to then use that power in an abusive fashion.
Bribery does not include just money bribes, although money bribes are the most commonly recognized form of bribery. Bribery laws also restrict bribes involving transfers of rank, preferment, privilege, objects of value, or unfair advantages. To display how serious bribery is treated in American bribery laws, consider the following: in Article 2, Section 4 of the Constitution, bribery is cited as one of only two crimes which, when committed, should immediately lead to the impeachment of the offending President, Vice-President, or any other officer of the law to have committed it, either by offering bribes or accepting them. The other crime? Treason.
Today, bribery laws generally bear certain common traits concerning how bribery is to be treated. According to law.jrank.org, these common traits are, first, that bribery laws apply to both those giving bribes and those accepting bribes equally; second, that they apply to anyone working for the Government in any capacity, even a temporary one, including jurors and legislators; third, that bribery can be committed by the briber even if the individual being bribed is unaffected and does not take the bribe; and fourth, that they treat bribery not as a misdemeanor, but as a felony.
Bribery laws in America prevent officials from being influenced by bribes, but they also go so far as to disallow gifts for "official acts" performed by the legal officials in their jobs. Regardless of whether these gifts were given with intent to manipulate, both offering and accepting such gifts falls under the domain of bribery.
A form of bribery laws in America, anti-corruption laws, often deal with campaign contributions, limiting them and directing them towards certain legal forms, such that politicians theoretically will not be bribed by lobbyists or others to change their policies as the lobbyists desire. Violations of these laws, however, are often interpreted as misdemeanors, instead of felonies, and are often construed in a different light than bribery.
Most bribery cases come to light only because of either particularly egregious violations of bribery laws which cannot go ignored or political investigation on the part of political opponents. Despite the harshness of bribery laws, the punishments of those laws have not been enforced in all cases unequivocally, and as a result, America's methods of dealing with bribery are a little more in flux than they might seem at first.
Regardless, however, clear and blatant acts of bribery will undoubtedly go noticed and will be punished to the fullest extent of the law, especially after so many famous instances of political corruption, including Watergate. Indeed, after Watergate, a number of programs sought discovery and prosecution of those who had either made or accepted bribes.
Bribery, as one of the most constant threats to the correct functioning of the American governmental system, remains one of the clearest possible violations of the law that any public official might make, especially now in the times of major companies with plenty of money available for strong bribes.