Friday, June 16, 2017

Morgan Griffith on Settlement Slush Funds

From U.S. Representative Morgan Griffith, R-VA-9:

Ending Settlement Slush Funds
During the Obama Administration, the Department of Justice (DOJ) adopted a troubling practice of settling lawsuits by requiring companies to “donate” huge amounts of money to organizations that were not directly affected by the allegations in the lawsuit.

This policy permitted unelected bureaucrats to select groups of their liking to receive huge sums from corporations found having done something wrong, allowing nongovernment groups to receive millions of dollars without authorization or oversight from Congress.

The previous Administration did it many times, in fact, the House Judiciary and Financial Services Committees found nearly a billion dollars were given to activist groups via these mandatory “donations” in the last two years.*

In the Senate, a 2016 report examined DOJ settlements in the housing industry, after financial institutions were accused of contributing to the housing bubble.

Some financial institutions, such as Bank of America and Citibank, were found to have done wrong. They were targeting low income people with mortgages they knew they couldn’t afford, sometimes called predatory lending, and then sold these mortgages to investors without disclosing the risk.

The Senate report cited that through a settlement, Citibank and Bank of America were required to “donate” money to several groups, including millions to National Council of La Raza.

This report from the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs says, “The National Council of La Raza, in particular, has had a particularly checkered history. The group has garnered attention from some lawmakers as being particularly extreme in its views on immigration—with some suggesting that La Raza promotes illegal immigration and advocates for benefits and driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.”*

The report also says that Congress specifically removed funding to these groups, but DOJ basically restored the funding, by requiring Bank of America and Citigroup to donate a combined $30 million.* DOJ decided to direct the funds to these activist groups, instead of finding ways to get the money directly to the victims. The settlement did not even give Congress the right to oversee how these groups spend the money they receive from the Bank of America and Citigroup donations, thus allowing groups to advance an agenda of their own.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced this settlement practice will be prohibited going forward.

“When the federal government settles a case against a corporate wrongdoer, any settlement funds should go first to the victims and then to the American people— not to bankroll third-party special interest groups or the political friends of whoever is in power,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who announced the new policy. “Unfortunately, in recent years the Department of Justice has sometimes required or encouraged defendants to make these payments to third parties as a condition of settlement. With this directive, we are ending this practice and ensuring that settlement funds are only used to compensate victims, redress harm, and punish and deter unlawful conduct.”*

I agree! In fact, Congress should pass a law making it clear this is our national policy.

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