Transparency bill sheds light on use of Judgment Fund dollars

Farm Forum

The federal government gets sued often.

Sometimes these lawsuits are high profile, like when the states sued the federal government over the President’s healthcare law. Other cases garner far fewer headlines. Yet, no matter how big or small, all of these lawsuits end up costing the public money. For many who sue the federal government their legal bills may even be covered by the taxpayers – the very people they are suing – out of a pot of money called the Judgment Fund.

The Judgment Fund is administered by the Treasury Department and used to pay certain court judgments and settlements against the federal government. Many groups continuously sue the federal government, and the Treasury simply writes a check to foot the bill without providing members of Congress and American taxpayers basic information about the payment. From 2009 to 2011, the Judgment Fund paid out $5.6 billion to cover the legal bills of those suing a variety of government agencies and departments.

Sadly, most of this money was wasted on funding the lawsuits of well-heeled environmental groups and predatory litigators who use the courts as a backdoor to policy making. These groups frequently file anti-agriculture lawsuits which costs both the government and livestock producers money. A report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) about cases filed against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows a startling pattern. The same groups and the same law firms continue to sue under the same statutes in order to push a political agenda through the courts. These politically motivated attorneys received hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to cover their fees and court costs from the Judgment Fund.

These groups are intentionally challenging the federal government in court in order to circumvent Congressional authority, and I believe that is wrong. Furthermore, the taxpayers should not have to pay for this abuse of the legal system. Unelected judges and lawyers are not accountable to the American people and therefore should not be policymakers.

There is a need for increased scrutiny of the Judgment Fund because under current law an unlimited amount of money is available to pay government liability with no reporting requirements on the Treasury Department. To be fair, not all payments out of the Judgment Fund are illegitimate. This fund is used to pay the legal bills of some who really deserve it. A veteran should not be deterred from pursuing justice against the federal government because he is of limited means. However, we have no way of knowing which payments are reasonable and which should be given a second look.

I introduced the Judgment Fund Transparency Act, which will help curb any further abuse of this fund by groups that continuously sue the federal government. This bill would promote transparency of the fund by requiring that the Treasury Department simply track payments and post those disbursements online within 30 days. Members of Congress, the public and government watchdog groups can then work to cut back the potential and further misuse of the money in the Judgment Fund. I am pleased that the livestock industry is supporting this legislation, which will serve as a major step forward in the effort to track currently unaccounted-for tax dollars being used to put producers out of business.