Federal prosecution of corporate crime drops dramatically across-the-board in 2017

Despite Donald Trump’s carefully cultivated image as “tough-on-crime” and a “law-and-order” president, recent research indicates the current U.S. administration has a curious tendency to overlook corporate violations of federal statutes.

According to a report released in late July by Public Citizen, fines issued by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2017 on corporations declined by a staggering 90 percent, while civil penalties imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fell by more than 94 percent.

According to the Washington-based non-profit, total monetary penalties imposed on corporate violators took a nosedive in 11 of 12 agencies led by Trump administration officials, with the exception of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which oversees deals between corporations and certain foreign countries, businesses, and individuals.

Incidentally, its penalty sums increased by 465 percent from 2016 to 2017.

Over the course of Trump’s presidency, the DOJ has:

  • Permitted corporations that participate in illegal bribery abroad to avoid prosecution entirely, so long as they meet certain conditions.
  • Eliminated payments to third parties intended to repair corporate harm.
  • Reduced corporate penalties by limiting the amount a single corporate violation can trigger from multiple enforcement agencies.
  • Stifled the DOJ’s power to bring charges against corporations that defraud the government. DOJ lawyers were instructed by former Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand to stop citing noncompliance with “guidance documents” as evidential proof of violation.

The implications of these policy changes are significant: so long as said allowances remain in place, fewer corporate offenders will be held accountable.

Moreover, the Trump administration’s selective enforcement of criminal penalties and “softening” stance towards corporate wrongdoings betrays America’s “basic standards of justice” which demand that “the rules be enforced equally against powerful corporations as they are against vulnerable individuals,” according to Public Citizen.

The executive summary argues that because corporate offenders have the ability to inflict damage on a dramatically greater scale than those committing street crimes, such violations “must be punished commensurate with the scale of the harms they impose.”

Public Citizen asserts that without strong and consistent regulatory enforcement, Americans’ quality of life is threatened. Since reducing business regulations was among Trump’s earliest campaign promises however, the report’s findings are unsurprising.

Interestingly, corporate funded political action committees (PACs) have been increasing contributions to several Democratic Party candidates en route to potentially leading House committees of considerable influence.

Such donations have sparked internal conflict within the party between members’ of diverging perspectives. While some Democratic lawmakers do not see a problem with accepting campaign funds from big business in the interest of regaining majority control of Congress, many see such donations as having a corrupting influence, with some more liberal candidates declaring that they will no longer accept contributions from corporate PAC’s.

Vast differences within America’s political area regarding the ethics of accepting corporate donations for the “greater good” of winning the midterms raises a vital question: What politicians can the individual voter trust?

Whether corporate powers are funding one’s preferred political platform or defrauding the government and slashing regulations intended to protect citizens from corporate illegalities, it is clear that working with corporate interests means playing by a different set of rules.


Editor’s note: This article has been edited for clarity since its original publication


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