This week's House passage of a bill out of committee is a second attempt to stop an Obama-era "slush fund" and restore integrity to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), a Texas congressman who co-sponsored the legislation said during a recent interview.
"Under the [President Barack] Obama administration, an immense shadow of doubt was cast over our nation’s justice system when congressional investigations confirmed that nearly a billion dollars was funneled to the DOJ’s political allies and pet organizations in the past two years alone," Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) said during a Texas Business Daily email interview. "All the while without accountability to Congress."
Ratcliffe's cosponsorship of "The Stop Settlement Slush Funds Act of 2017," H.R. 732, followed a Congressional investigation into improper payments to non-victim third parties.
"A yearlong committee investigation has revealed that the DOJ is pushing and even requiring settling defendants to donate money to non-victim third-parties," that report said. "Donations can earn up to double credit against defendants' overall payment obligations, while credit for direct relief to consumers is merely dollar-for-dollar. What is more, documents show that groups that stood to gain from these mandatory donations lobbied DOJ to include them in settlements. DOJ has funneled third-party groups as much as $880 million dollars in just the last 2 years. These payments occur entirely outside of the Congressional appropriations and grant oversight process. What is worse, in some cases, DOJ-mandated donations restore funding that Congress specifically cut."
That needs to stop, Ratcliffe said.
"The American people deserve a DOJ they can trust, and the Stop Settlement Slush Funds Act of 2017 will help ensure this type of corruption won’t be allowed to continue under any administration," he said. "I’m glad my colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee joined me in approving this bill, and I’m hopeful it will soon be brought up for a vote before the entire House of Representatives. It’s about time we finally restore justice at the DOJ."
Ratcliffe also co-sponsored last year's identical bill, "The Stop Settlement Slush Funds Act of 2016" or H.R. 5063, which passed the full House.
Along mostly partisan lines, H.R. 732 passed out of the House Judiciary Committee to end a strategy to funnel money from enforcement actions into donations. Introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), the act prohibits government settlement agreements that require donations to a third-party group.
The bill was marked up and passed out of the committee Tuesday, a process that was broadcast live.
Legislation supporters, which include FreedomWorks and Americans for Tax Reform, say H.R. 732 is one of a lengthy list of reforms. Another bill observers are watching closely is H.R. 850, introduced Feb. 3 by Rep. Gary Palmer (R-AL), which would require all federal agencies to direct monies acquired through fines, fees or settlements to the U.S. Treasury. Ratcliffe is one of 55 co-sponsors of Palmer's bill.
The Stop Settlement Slush Funds Act had 32 co-sponsors when it passed out of the House Judiciary committee. The bill had four other co-sponsors from Texas: Lamar Smith of District 21, Louie Gohmert of District 1, Ted Poe of District 2 and Blake Farenthold of District 27.