Archive for the ‘Regulation’ Category

Trump Goes Easy on Major Corporate Offenders

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

It’s unclear to what extent the Obama Administration’s practice of extracting unprecedented monetary penalties on miscreant companies proved to be an effective deterrent, but at least the billion-dollar fines and settlements served to highlight the ongoing problem of corporate crime.

The Trump Administration seems to be a lot less interested in cracking down on the most egregious corporate offenders. Although the enforcement arms of agencies such as OSHA and EPA are still operating along normal lines, there has been a sharp decline in the number of mega-penalty cases announced by the Justice Department.

This conclusion emerges from an analysis of the data recently added to the Violation Tracker database covering cases through the end of the Trump Administration’s first year in office on January 19.

Since the largest penalties are normally imposed on the largest corporations, I did an analysis focusing on the Fortune 100 list of the very largest U.S. publicly traded companies. I found that overall federal penalties imposed on these firms during Trump’s first 12 months totaled $1.1 billion, compared to an annual average of more than $17 billion during the Obama years.

The Obama totals, of course, reflected extraordinary settlements with the largest banks to resolve allegations relating to their role in bringing about the financial meltdown of a decade ago. These included, for example, the $16 billion settlement with Bank of America in 2014 and the $13 billion settlement with JPMorgan Chase the year before.

Those financial services sector settlements peaked during the middle years of the Obama era. Yet Trump’s $1.1 billion first-year total is still far below the annual average of more than $9 billion for the Fortune 100 during Obama’s final two years in office. It also trails behind the $3 billion total during Obama’s first year.

Looking at all corporate offenders, there were 44 cases with penalties of $1 billion or more during the Obama era yet only two during Trump’s first year, and he doesn’t really deserve credit for those. One is the $5.5 billion settlement reached by the Federal Housing Finance Agency with the Royal Bank of Scotland relating to the sale of toxic securities to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That case had been filed in 2008, and the settlement had been negotiated under Obama. The other is the a $1.4 billion penalty against Volkswagen for its emissions cheating that appears in EPA records with a date of May 17, 2017 but was actually part of a larger $4.3 billion settlement announced by the Justice Department during the last days of the Obama Administration.

There is also an interesting pattern among Trump Administration penalties in the next tier down—those of $100 million or more. The parent companies involved in about two-thirds of these cases are foreign, especially those with the largest penalty totals. They include the Chinese telecom company ZTE, which was penalized for export control violations, and the Swedish telecom Telia, which was punished under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

It appears that the Trump Administration is more likely to get tough with a corporate violator if the company is not based in the United States, while domestic companies get treated more leniently. I guess the slogan is: Make Domestic Corporate Criminals Great Again.

Note: you can do analyses of your own on Violation Tracker using our new feature allowing search results to be filtered by presidential administration.

Stopping the Growth of Rogue Corporations

Thursday, February 8th, 2018

The federal response to corporate misconduct over the past two decades has alternated between tougher monetary penalties and the promotion of voluntary measures to lure companies into behaving better. Neither has worked very well.

Companies came to saw the increased fines as a tolerable cost of doing business (especially when they were tax deductible), while voluntarism was never a match for corporate greed.

It was thus intriguing when the Federal Reserve recently adopted a new approach in dealing with Wells Fargo. That bank, of course, has become notorious for its brazen scheme of creating millions of accounts not requested by customers, in order to generate illicit fees. It paid a fine of $100 million, with a lot more expected to follow. This came after a series of other scandals, including mortgage abuses that resulted in a $5.3 billion settlement in 2012.

The Fed, on Chair Janet Yellen’s final working day in office, issued an unusually blunt press release saying that the board was taking steps in response to “widespread consumer abuses and other compliance breakdowns” at Wells.

In an unprecedented step, the Fed imposed a restriction on the bank’s ability to grow “until it sufficiently improves its governance and controls.” In an industry for which getting larger is the guiding principle, Wells will feel intense pressure to satisfy the Fed’s demands. In fact, concurrently with the Fed’s action Wells announced that it would replace one-quarter of its 16-person board of directors by the end of the year.

Bank-friendly politicians have not had much to say about the Fed’s action, but it is clear that the restriction placed on Wells represents a forceful rebuttal to those pressing for a weakening of financial industry regulation. The ouster of Yellen by President Trump was a coup for the deregulation crowd, but we can take some solace in reports that her successor Jerome Powell oversaw the Fed’s negotiations with Wells.

The Fed’s action should be promoted as an example of how regulatory agencies and the Justice Department need to get more creative in dealing with egregious and repeat violators. Rogue corporations will only change their behavior if the penalties really sting.

The restriction on growth begins to meet this requirement because it makes Wells more vulnerable. An inability to become larger through acquisitions means that the bank will lose ground to its big competitors. Wells is probably too big to be a potential takeover target itself, but it could come under pressure from activist investors to restructure or even sell off portions of itself.

Moreover, the restrictions will probably depress the bank’s stock price, and that will be felt personally by the executives who encouraged or overlooked the misconduct.

At the same time, the house-cleaning among directors is an important message to send to board members at other misbehaving companies. That message would be even more effective if directors are not just removed but held personally liable for allowing the corrupt practices to happen.

The Fed has not always been the most aggressive of regulators. Let’s hope its action on Wells inspires other agencies to get tougher with corporate miscreants.

The 2017 Corporate Rap Sheet

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

The year began with a burst of announcements by the Obama Administration of cases it rushed to resolve before leaving office. In the period between election day and the inauguration, the Justice Department and various agencies announced more than $30 billion in fines and settlements.

That flurry of activity disappeared once Donald Trump took office. Agency enforcement activity soon resumed,  thanks to the efforts of career officials, but it appears that the volume of cases has declined compared to previous years. The same goes for the Justice Department, where high-profile prosecutions of large companies have continued but have become less frequent. Here is a rundown of selected major cases resolved during 2017, divided between the two administrations:

Obama Cases

Sale of Toxic Securities: Two of the year’s biggest penalties came in cases stemming back to the period leading up to the financial meltdown in 2008. During its final days the Obama Justice Department got Deutsche Bank to agree to pay $7.2 billion to resolve allegations that it misled investors in the sale of mortgage-backed securities. A day later it announced that Credit Suisse would pay $5.3 billion in a similar case. Moody’s reached an $864 million settlement with the federal government and 21 states for providing flawed credit ratings on what turned out to be toxic securities.

Money Laundering. In January Western Union agreed to forfeit $586 million and entered into agreements with the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission to resolve criminal allegations that it failed to maintain an effective anti-money-laundering system and that it abetted wire fraud.

Environmental Fraud: In January the Justice Department announced that Volkswagen would plead guilty to three felony counts and pay a $2.8 billion penalty to resolve the criminal charges brought against the automaker in connection with its scheme to use a device to cheat on emissions tests.

Auto Safety Fraud: In January Takata Corporation agreed to pay a $1 billion criminal penalty in the case brought against the Japanese company for fraudulent conduct in the sale of defective airbag inflators.

Trump Cases

Sale of Toxic Securities: In July the Federal Housing Finance Agency announced that Royal Bank of Scotland would pay $5.5 billion to settle allegations relating to the sale of mortgage-backed securities to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Export Control Violations: In March the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security announced that the Chinese company ZTE would pay $661 million to resolve allegations that it shipped telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea in violation of U.S. export restrictions.

Bribery: In September the Swedish telecommunications company Telia was fined $457 million by the Securities and Exchange Commission for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act through illicit payments to government officials in Uzbekistan.

False Claims Act: In August the pharmaceutical company Mylan agreed to pay $465 million to settle allegations that it misclassified its EpiPen devices as generic drugs to avoid paying rebates to Medicaid.

Illegal Drug Promotion/Distribution: In July the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles announced that Celgene would pay $280 million to settle allegations that it illegally promoted two cancer medications for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. In September AmeriSourceBergen pled guilty and agreed to pay a total of $260 million to resolve criminal liability for its distribution of oncology supportive-care drugs from a facility that was not registered with the FDA.

Foreign Exchange Violations: In July the Federal Reserve Board fined the French bank BNP Paribas $246 million for failing to prevent its foreign exchange traders from engaging in market manipulation. In September the Fed fined HSBC $175 million for the firm’s unsafe and unsound practices in its foreign exchange trading business.

Consumer Protection: In August the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fined American Express $96 million for discriminating against consumers in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and other U.S. territories by providing them with credit and charge card terms that were inferior to those available in the 50 states.

Price-Fixing: In May the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division announced that Bumble Bee Foods would pay a criminal fine of $25 million in connection with price-fixing of shelf-stable tuna.

Workplace Harassment: In August the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced that Ford Motor would pay up to $10.125 million to workers affected by sexual and racial harassment at two company facilities in the Chicago area.

Fair Labor Standards Act: In March the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division announced that the Walt Disney Company would pay $3.8 million in back wages to workers affected by violations of minimum wage and overtime rules.

Environmental Violation: In October Exxon Mobil agreed to pay a penalty of $2.5 million and spend $300 million on air pollution controls to resolve allegations that it violated the Clean Air Act by failing to properly operate and monitor industrial flares at its petrochemical facilities.

Note: Additional details on all these cases can be found in Violation Tracker. During 2017 my colleagues and I expanded the database to 300,000 entries with total penalties of $400 billion. Coverage now includes cases from more than 40 federal regulatory agencies and all divisions of the Justice Department dating back to the beginning of 2000.

Portraying Corporate Villains as Victims

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

The world according to Trump is one of grievances and victimhood. During the presidential campaign he got a lot of mileage by appearing to empathize with the travails of the white working class and promising to be their champion in fighting against the impact of globalization and economic restructuring. At times he even seemed to be adopting traditional left-wing positions by criticizing big banks and big pharma.

Over the past ten months that stance has been steadily changing, and now the transformation is starkly evident. Trump is still obsessed with victimhood, but the focus on the legitimate economic grievances of white workers has been replaced by a preoccupation with the bogus grievances of large corporations. He would have us believe that today’s most oppressed group is Corporate America.

The desire to come to the rescue of big business is, when all the distracting tweets are put aside, at the core of the mission that Trump shares with Congressional Republicans: dismantling regulation and slashing corporate taxes.

It’s difficult to know whether this is what Trump planned all along and cynically manipulated his supporters or if he was turned by the Washington swamp he unconvincingly vowed to drain. In either event, his administration is engaging in one of the most egregious betrayals in American history.

Trump is not only neglecting the economic interests of his core supporters; he is siding with those who prey on them. This is playing out in many ways — from promoting anti-worker policies at the Labor Department to going easy on the drug companies responsible for the opioid epidemic — but one of the most revealing situations is taking place at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Putting aside the question of whether outgoing director Richard Cordray or President Trump has the right to name an acting director, the real issue is what is going to become of an agency that has been courageous and unrelenting in its enforcement actions against predatory financial firms.

The CFPB’s sin, from the point of view of the White House and Congressional Republicans, is that it has been doing its job too well. One of the dirty little secrets of Washington is that most regulatory agencies are in the pocket of the corporations they are supposed to police. Oversight is usually friendly or at least not onerous.

The CFPB was designed to, and in practice did, break that mold. It has not been chummy with the banks, payday lenders, mortgage brokers and credit agencies. As shown in Violation Tracker, since 2012 the CFPB has brought more than 100 enforcement actions and imposed more than $7 billion in penalties.

After he was named to take over the agency, Mick Mulvaney, who had long advocated its dismantlement, was quoted as saying that President Trump wanted him to get the CFPB “back to the point where it can protect people without trampling on capitalism.” The very thinly veiled message is that CFPB will cease to be an aggressive advocate for consumers, allowing banks and other financial companies to breathe easier.

Mulvaney was giving what amounted to a moral reprieve for all those companies pursued by the CFPB, including:

  • Wells Fargo, which was the target of one of the CFPB’s highest profile enforcement actions: the $100 million penalty imposed on the bank for secretly creating millions of extra accounts not requested by customers, in order to generate illicit fees.
  • Mortgage loan servicer Ocwen Financial, which the CFPB ordered to provide $2 billion in principal reduction to underwater borrowers, many of whom had been forced into foreclosure by Ocwen’s abusive practices.
  • Bank of America and FIA Card Services, which the CFPB ordered to provide $747 million in relief to card customers harmed by deceptive marketing of add-on products.
  • Corinthian Colleges Inc., the operator of dubious for-profit schools that was sued by the CFPB and ended up going out of business amid charges that it lured students into taking out private loans to cover expensive tuition costs by advertising bogus job prospects and career services.
  • Colfax Capital (also known as Rome Finance), which the CFPB ordered to pay $92 million in debt relief to some 17,000 members of the U.S. armed forces who had been harmed by the company’s predatory lending practices.
  • Or smaller operators such as Reverse Mortgage Solutions, which the CFPB fined for falsely telling customers, mainly seniors, that there was no risk of losing their home.

The Trump Administration has come to the rescue of financial scammers such as these by moving to defang the CFPB and restore the proper order of things in which it is not capitalists but rather consumers and workers who get trampled.

The Corporate Crook Conquest of the Executive Branch

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

It appears that the Trump Administration will not rest until every last federal regulatory agency is under the control of a corporate surrogate. The reverse revolving door is swinging wildly as business foxes swarm into the rulemaking henhouses.

Among the latest predators is Alex Azar II, who was just nominated by Trump to head the Department of Health and Human Services, a position Tom Price had to vacate amid the uproar over his excessive use of chartered jets for routine government travel. Until earlier this year Azar was the president of the U.S. division of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly.

Azar apparently shares Price’s abhorrence of the Affordable Care Act, but he also brings the perspective of a top executive for a drug company with a particularly sordid track record. For the past 40 years Lilly has been embroiled in a series of scandals involving unsafe products and the marketing of drugs for unapproved uses. Among the many cases were some that involved criminal charges.

In 1985 Lilly pleaded guilty to charges that it failed to notify federal regulators about deaths and illnesses linked to Oraflex.  The company’s former chief medical officer entered a plea of no contest to similar individual charges. A Justice Department report put the number of deaths the company had covered up at 28.

In 2009 the U.S. Justice Department announced that Lilly had agreed to pay a $515 million criminal fine as part of the resolution of allegations relating to the illegal marketing of its schizophrenia drug Zyprexa.

The company has also faced bribery allegations. In December 2012 the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced that Lilly would pay a total of $29.4 million to resolve charges that some of its subsidiaries violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by making improper payments to win business in Russia, Brazil, China and Poland.

Violation Tracker’s tally on Eli Lilly amounts to $1.49 billion in penalties since 2000.

Meanwhile, the Senate has confirmed (along party lines) the Trump Administration’s nomination of coal mining executive David Zatezalo to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration. For seven years Zatezalo served as chairman of Rhino Resource Partners, where he clashed with MSHA over the company’s safety problems. The agency issued two rare “pattern of violation” warnings against the company. Violation Tracker contains 160 cases involving Rhino with total penalties of more than $2 million.

And given the headlong rush by Congressional Republicans to pass their tax legislation, it should be noticed that the Trump Administration’s interim head of the Internal Revenue Service (following the resignation of John Koskinen, who had been named by Obama) is David Kautter, who spent most of his career at the accounting firm Ernst & Young, which now prefers to be called EY.

Kautter was in charge of the tax compliance department at Ernst, which to a great extent meant helping clients dodge their fiscal obligations. In 2013 the firm had to pay $123 million to settle federal criminal charges of wrongful conduct in connection with illegitimate tax shelters (it was offered a non-prosecution agreement).

The phrase regulatory capture used to refer to tendency of agencies to gradually become more sympathetic to the needs of the industries they were supposed to oversee. Under Trump that process has been accelerated, with regulatory posts being given to individuals who are already corporate insiders or shills for the worst the business world has to offer. More than regulatory capture, it is the corporate crook conquest of the executive branch.

Tax Dodgers and Regulatory Scofflaws

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

Large corporations in the United States like to portray themselves as victims of a supposedly onerous tax system and a supposedly oppressive regulatory system. Those depictions are a far cry from reality, but that does not stop business interests from seeking to weaken government power in both areas.

This year has been a bonanza. The Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans have taken aim at numerous Obama-era regulatory initiatives and now are serving up a banquet of business tax breaks.

At the same time, corporations take matters into their own hands by using every opportunity to circumvent tax obligations and regulatory safeguards. The newly released Paradise Papers are just the latest indications of how large corporations such as Apple (and wealthy individuals) use offshore havens to shield billions of dollars in profits from taxation.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy has published a list of more than 300 Fortune 500 companies that hold some $2.6 trillion offshore, thereby avoiding about $767 billion in federal taxes. Of these, ITEP has found indications that 29 corporations keep their holdings not only outside the United States but in tax haven countries where they pay very little in local taxes.

It should come as no surprise that quite a few of these tax dodgers also show up high on the list of regulatory scofflaws documented in Violation Tracker. In fact, one of the 29 is Bank of America, which has racked up $57 billion in fines and settlements since 2000 — far more than any other corporation. ITEP reports that B of A has $17.8 billion in unrepatriated income.

Also on the ITEP list is Citigroup, with $47 billion in unrepatriated income. It ranks 5th on the Violation Tracker list, with more than $16 billion in fines and settlements. Wells Fargo has $2.4 billion in unrepatriated income and $11 billion in penalties, but that latter figure is likely to rise as various cases relating to the bank’s bogus account scandal are resolved.

Banks are not the only overlaps between the two lists. For example, pharmaceutical company Amgen has $36 billion in unrepatriated income and $786 million in penalties.

Major regulatory violators can also be found on the larger list of corporations that are known to have large offshore holdings but do not disclose enough information to allow ITEP to determine whether those holdings are in tax havens. Chief among these are other pharmaceutical giant such as Pfizer ($197 billion offshore and $4.3 billion in penalties), Johnson & Johnson ($66 billion offshore and $2.5 billion in penalties), Merck ($63 billion offshore and $2 billion in penalties) and Eli Lilly ($28 billion offshore and $1.4 billion in penalties).

Also on the list are petroleum majors such as Exxon Mobil ($54 billion offshore and $714 million in penalties) and Chevron ($46 billion offshore and $578 million in penalties).

The mindset that prompts corporate executives to use international tax dodging techniques seems to be related to the one that encourages them to break environmental, consumer protection and other laws at home. The logical course of action would be to tighten both tax and regulatory enforcement, but those currently in charge of federal policymaking instead want to make it even easier for large corporations to make out like bandits.

Bizarro-World Worker Populism at Trump’s OSHA

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

The bizarro-world worker populism of Donald Trump strikes again. The White House recently nominated Scott Mugno to be the Assistant Secretary of Labor in charge of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Mugno (photo at left) is not a worker safety advocate, occupational health scientist or a union official. Instead, he is a corporate safety executive at the shipping giant FedEx.

Data in Violation Tracker shows since 2000 FedEx has racked up $335,853 in OSHA penalties (counting only those fines of $5,000 or more designated as serious, willful or repeated). This total is the 208th largest among the 1,777 parent companies in Violation Tracker with OSHA fines.

While FedEx may not be at the very top of the OSHA penalty list, it does have some significant safety blemishes on its record. In 2014, for example, OSHA proposed a fine of $44,000 against the company for failing to properly guard a conveyor belt at its facility in Wilmington, Massachusetts. In its press release announcing the proposed penalty (which FedEx managed to get deleted), the agency noted that the company had previously been cited for the same issue at two other facilities.

Moreover, FedEx in general and Mugno in particular have tried to weaken OSHA oversight. In a 2006 presentation at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event, Mugno argued that workers needed to take more responsibility for health and safety issues, conveniently ignoring the fact that they rarely have the autonomy to make meaningful changes in workplace conditions.

Another sign of Mugno’s orientation is the warm reception his nomination has received from business groups such as the Chamber and the American Trucking Association. At the same time, public interest groups have expressed concern. Public Citizen came out in opposition to the nomination, citing Mugno’s 2006 remarks and arguing that his “stance on laws and regulations do not mesh with leading an agency tasked with writing rules to ensure safe and healthy working conditions.” The Center for Progressive Reform posted a long list of questions that need to be put to Mugno.

The Center, by the way, has just introduced a Crimes Against Workers Database that compiles information on state-level criminal actions against companies and their executives implicated in serious workplace accidents. (I’m pleased to report that the database includes links to Violation Tracker data, and I plan to reciprocate.)

It was to be expected that Trump, who repeatedly bashed the EPA during the presidential campaign, would have named a climate change denier and regulation hater like Scott Pruitt to head that agency. Yet Trump did not carry on a similar tirade against OSHA, perhaps realizing that many of his blue-collar supporters were all too aware of workplace hazards that needed the agency’s oversight.

If Trump were any kind of real populist, he could have named a true worker safety advocate to OSHA without breaking any campaign promises. Instead, he brought in a business apologist who will pursue the Chamber agenda and raise the risk level for millions of American workers. The Trump corporate takeover marches on.

Unfettered Corporate Power

Thursday, October 26th, 2017

Once upon a time, there was a debate on how best to check the power of giant corporations. Starting in the Progressive Era and resuming in the 1970s with the arrival of agencies such as the EPA and OSHA, some emphasized the role of government through regulation. Others focused on the role of the courts, especially through the kind of class action lawsuits pioneered by lawyers such as Harold Kohn in the 1960s.

When regulators were seen as too aggressive, business apologists pushed back by arguing that corporate misconduct should be addressed through litigation. When class actions grew more effective, those apologists started lobbying for tort reform and arguing that regulatory agencies (especially those dominated by industry) were the better forum.

This year, amid a supposed populist upsurge, that debate is dying out. The Republican-controlled Congress and the White House are undermining both regulation and litigation. Virtually all legislative “accomplishments” since Inauguration Day have consisted of Congressional Review Act maneuvers to roll back business regulations. Now, with the Senate’s move to kill the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s restriction on forced arbitration, Congress has used the same device to reduce the ability of consumers to seek redress through the courts — what Sen. Elizabeth Warren aptly described as “a giant wet kiss to Wall Street.”

The result of these moves is that big business is increasingly being allowed to operate with no effective controls at all. This unilateral disarmament is taking place when corporate misconduct is rampant. Among the companies that will benefit from the arbitration move are the likes of Wells Fargo and Equifax, whose willingness to mistreat customers has been truly astounding.

We should be careful, however, not to overstate the effectiveness of damage awards in class action lawsuits in changing corporate behavior. It’s unfortunately true that large corporations have come to regard substantial monetary settlements as an acceptable cost of doing business.

That’s true both of private litigation and cases brought by regulatory agencies and the Justice Department. As shown in Violation Tracker, 40 corporations have paid $1 billion or more in fines and settlements. Seven of those have paid $10 billion or more, including all the giant national banks: Bank of America ($57 billion), JPMorgan Chase ($29 billion), Citigroup ($16 billion) and Wells Fargo ($11 billion).

These amounts have involved scores of different cases dating back to 2000. In other words, the banks are repeat violators that are willing to pay out large sums in order to continue doing business more or less as usual. More class action lawsuits are unlikely to change this dynamic.

I believe that banks and other large corporations should continue to face heavy financial penalties for their misconduct, but it has become clear that these penalties alone are not going to put an end to the corporate crime wave. It’s time to go beyond damages in addressing the damage caused by these companies.

Getting Tough on the Corporations Behind the Opioid Crisis

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

The withdrawal of Tom Marino’s nomination as national drug czar is a reminder of the power of whistle-blowing and aggressive investigative reporting, while the fact that he was named in the first place is a reminder of the hollowness of the Trump’s Administration’s commitments to draining the swamp and to seriously addressing the opioid epidemic.

Yet there is much more to be done beyond denying a high-profile job to the Congressman who did the pharmaceutical industry’s bidding in weakening the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to thwart illicit distribution of prescription painkillers.

The first step, of course, is for Congress to undo the damage caused by Marino’s bill, which Democrats and Republicans alike allowed to be enacted with little scrutiny. Also needed are reforms to the revolving door system, which the excellent reporting by the Washington Post and 60 Minutes and the revelations of DEA whistle-blower Joseph Rannazzisi (photo) showed to play a key role in the story as former DEA officials working for the drug industry or its law firms helped to draft and promote the legislation.

If the scourge of opioids is to end, there will have to be much stronger enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the law that forms the basis of U.S. drug control policy. For a long time, it appeared the problem was that the CSA was being enforced too strictly, at least when it was applied to drug users and low-level drug sellers.

Starting about a decade ago, federal officials and prosecutors began to pay attention to the pernicious role played by the supposedly legitimate drug industry. In 2007, Purdue Pharma’s Purdue Frederick Inc. unit and several of its executives pleaded guilty to criminal charges of misleading the public about the addictive nature of its OxyContin pain medication and paid more than $634 million in penalties. That case was brought by the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia in cooperation with the Food and Drug Administration, not the DEA.

During the following years, the DEA began to bring its own enforcement actions under the CSA or referred cases to the Justice Department for prosecution. According to data I have collected for Violation Tracker (some of which has not yet been posted on the site), there have been about 80 CSA actions against drug companies, distributors or healthcare providers since 2008.

The penalties collected in the cases total about $605 million. The biggest amounts were imposed on the distributor McKesson ($176 million in three cases); CVS ($130 million in nine cases); Walgreens ($80 million); and a second big distributor, Cardinal Health ($68 million in three cases).

It’s notable that the penalties in these 80 cases combined amount to less than that imposed on Purdue alone. Moreover, all of the cases were brought as civil rather than criminal actions. I found one corporate CSA criminal cases but it was not brought against a healthcare company or retailer but rather against United Parcel Service, in connection with its role in delivering shipments from illegal online pharmacies. And in that case UPS was offered a non-prosecution agreement that essentially nullified the criminal charge.

Given the size of the industry and the profitability of the companies involved, all these cases amounted to little more than a slap on the wrist. The gravity of the opioid crisis requires stronger action against the companies involved, as well as their executives and, in cases like the Sackler Family behind Purdue Pharma, their individual owners.

A Strange Way of Helping Workers

Thursday, September 28th, 2017

The Trump Administration would have us believe it is all about helping workers. Yet it has a strange way of showing it. Policies that directly assist workers are under attack, and all the emphasis is on initiatives that purportedly aid workers indirectly by boosting their employers.

That dubious approach is on full display now in a tax proposal that is being sold as pro-worker even though its main effect will be to make the rich even richer with the trickle-down hope they decide to use some of their additional wealth to create jobs and boost wages.

The same goes with regulation, a topic Trump is expected to return to in a speech next week. The dismantling of safeguards vital to the well-being of workers and consumers is packaged as the key to unleashing Corporate America’s job-creation mojo.

To a great extent these arguments are nothing more than chicanery. If there is any shred of sincerity, it is based on the idea that corporations, with fewer tax and regulatory burdens, will act in a socially beneficial way.

Corporations themselves, including ones that have lately been critical of the Trump Administration on issues such as race relations and climate change, help to promote the notion of business civic virtue. In fact, they and their apologists don’t restrain themselves in claiming the moral high ground.

A prime example of this appears in a recent issue of Fortune, which contains the magazine’s latest list of what it calls Change the World companies. These are the corporations whose operations supposedly have the greatest positive social impact.

Perhaps I have a jaded view, but I was astounded to see many of the companies on the list. Not only are they not paragons of virtue — in some cases they are leading corporate miscreants.

Take No. 1 on the list: JPMorgan Chase. In Violation Tracker the bank shows up with more than $29 billion in fines and settlements since 2000, making it the second most penalized company in the United States (after Bank of America). A big part of its total comes from toxic securities cases and mortgage abuses in the period leading to the financial meltdown, but there is much more. For example, it had to pay $1.7 billion to resolve a deferred prosecution criminal case relating to its role as the banker for Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme; $550 million for its role in a conspiracy to manipulate the foreign exchange market; $329 million for illegal credit card practices; and so on.

No. 9 on the Fortune list is Johnson & Johnson, which long cultivated a lily-white image as a producer of baby powder and other wholesome items, but in recent years has gotten itself embroiled in a series of scandals. Its Violation Tracker tally comes mainly from a 2013 civil and criminal case in which it had to pay $2.2 billion to resolve allegations of promoting three prescription drugs for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Among the companies on the top tier of the Fortune list are some with terrible employment records, including Walmart, which has long fought efforts of its U.S. workers to form unions and bargain for better pay, and Apple, which grew rich from the toil of the underpaid overseas workers producing its overpriced devices.

The Fortune lists contains some smaller and less notorious companies, but the presence of those leading corporate culprits taints the whole project.

A similar taint can be found in the Trump tax and deregulatory initiatives. If you want to help workers, help them directly — don’t give away the store to their employers.