COLUMN: No More Unconstitutional Settlement Slush Fund
For Americans, two dates in our history hold special meaning for our personal liberties and for limiting the power of the federal government. July 4th is universally known because of the date’s association with the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Another foundational date that we just observed is September 17th, the day in 1787 when delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia signed the Constitution, which lays out the structure and limits of our federal government. One of the provisions in the Constitution that balances the power of government is to give Congress, the branch that is the most accountable to the people, the authority for taxing and spending. In recent years, however, the Executive Branch has circumvented congressional authority, when enforcing legal settlements, by funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to third party groups, effectively spending without approval from Congress. As part of the Republican Congress’s a “Better Way” vision for a more confident America, it is a priority of the majority in Congress to restore constitutional balance and rein in Executive Branch overreach.
The U.S. Department of Justice, part of the Executive Branch, has overreached by requiring that defendants in legal settlements involving the U.S. government include charitable donations to non-victim, special interest groups—frequently leftist organizations that Congress has refused to grant taxpayer dollars. This settlement requirement amounts to a slush fund for allies of the Administration that bypasses Congress’ spending authority. The amount of payments mandated by the Justice Department has reached more than $800 million in the past two years alone. Congress must act to protect the separation of powers and reverse the Executive Branch’s intrusion on constitutional spending powers.
The House recently passed, and I supported, H.R. 5063, the Stop Settlement Slush Funds Act of 2016, as part of the effort to restore the Constitution. H.R. 5063 would prohibit government officials from entering into or enforcing any settlement agreement for civil actions on behalf of the United States government if that agreement requires that the settlement is made in a donation to a non-victim third party. The prohibition would not apply to payments made as restitution in a settlement.
Simply put, the legislation passed by the House would bar not only the Justice Department, but all other government agencies, from requiring defendants to donate money to outside special interests groups as part of their settlement agreements with the federal government.
Safeguarding representative government means standing for the principle of the separation of powers and adhering to our Founders’ vision of accountable government. We celebrate the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution because those documents describe our ideals and the kind of representative system that is worth preserving. I will continue to push to protect and restore our constitutional order.