ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Over the years, the U.S. has played a major role in the movement to stop corruption and improve government transparency around the world. Now, some transparency advocates worry that the Trump administration could undercut that effort. NPR's Jim Zarroli explains.
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UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: His fifth goal of this World Cup.
JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: When the global governing body for the sport of soccer became mired in scandal a few years ago, it was the U.S. Justice Department that led the investigation. Alejandro Salas, regional director for the Americas at Transparency International, says Washington has long played an indispensable role in promoting good government practices.
ALEJANDRO SALAS: The United States, being one of the oldest and best established democratic systems with strong institutions, has always been a role model, and has been a very strong ally for the fight against corruption around the world.
ZARROLI: It has done this, he says, in part through strong anti-corruption laws such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which barred bribery by multinational companies. The United States has also actively promoted democracy around the world. The Virginia-based group Legacy International, for example, has a State Department contract to train young leaders from countries such as Kuwait and Kazakhstan in concepts such as transparency and constituent service. Mary Helmig is the group's vice president.
MARY HELMIG: Those are all things that are fledgling in other parts of the world. So we give them a taste of how we do it, the United States. And they take a lot of those practices home and implement them.
ZARROLI: These efforts benefit the United States, says Georgetown law professor Alvaro Santos. Washington wants to create stable, diplomatic and trading partners in as many places as it can. Santos also says State Department programs have been a lot less important over the years than the example the U.S. has set for other countries.
ALVARO SANTOS: The greatest asset of the United States in terms of influence is basically the model that it has become for the rest of the world.
ZARROLI: Santos notes that in Mexico, there has been a movement to persuade politicians to disclose their financial assets.
SANTOS: And I think the U.S. is in that case held up of the example where politicians routinely disclose their tax returns, for example.
ZARROLI: So, Santos says, President Trump's refusal to disclose his own tax returns is something that can only undercut reform efforts in Mexico. Alejandro Salas of Transparency International notes that even European governments have often followed Washington's lead in fighting corruption. For that reason, he is watching the new administration with some concern. Santos says Trump campaigned by promising to root out corruption. He notes that one of the first bills Trump signed repealed an Obama era rule requiring energy and mining companies to disclose payments they made abroad.
SANTOS: But now by scrapping that, it's lowering the bar in other countries that at some years ago followed the example of the U.S. They will now feel legitimately that they can give also steps back.
ZARROLI: Trump has also held on to a large network of businesses, despite the conflicts of interest they pose. Salas concedes it's early in the administration, but so far he's been disappointed by the tone Trump has set. And he worries about the impact that will have on other countries that look to the United States for the example it sets. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.
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