The Trump administration has taken a far more light-handed approach to penalizing corporations caught misbehaving in the private sector, according to a newly released study, with penalties falling as much as 94 percent when compared to the Obama administration.
The study from consumer rights non-profit Public Citizen used data from the database “violation tracker”, a project of the thinktank Good Jobs First, to track penalties assessed against corporations by 12 federal agencies including the Department of Justice (DoJ), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).
In 11 of the 12 federal agencies studied, Public Citizen found that the amount of civil penalties applied against corporate rule-breakers had declined - in some cases by huge numbers - from Trump’s first year in office when compared to Obama’s last. For example, compliance penalty fines by the EPA went down from $23.87b to $1.86b – a drop of around 94%.
At the Justice Department, corporate penalties fell 90 percent; at the Federal Communications Commission they dropped 85 percent; and at the Securities and Exchange Commission, corporate fines were down 68 percent.
“When it comes to large corporations, the supposedly ‘tough-on-crime’ Trump administration is undertaking an epic retreat from law enforcement – slashing fines, declining to bring cases against corporate wrongdoers and cutting enforcement programs,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.
“The message to big business couldn’t be more clear: feel free to run roughshod over rules that protect the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat as well as ensure the safety of the cars we drive and protect us against bank rip-offs and consumer fraud,” Weissman continued.
While the researchers acknowledged that the report covered only three years — the last two of the Obama administration and first year under Trump — and some variation is expected between years, they also acknowledged a clear, steep decline.
“It’s not unfair to expect some decline, and in a different administration, a decline might just be a delay. But looking at the policies this administration is putting in place, we expect this first year to be the high water mark for corporate enforcement and not a temporary ebb that will be made up for by a large increase later,” said Rick Claypool, a research director with Public Citizen.
Claypool notes that many Trump administration officials have criticized past corporate enforcement efforts and plainly stated plans to deemphasize it.