Billions in federal fines, where does it all go?
WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) - The United States government regularly takes in huge amounts of federal fines. So, where does all that money go?
That's a question on the mind of Joshua Reliford, who four years ago lost an eye after the Takata air bag in the car he was driving exploded.
“Some nights I wouldn’t even sleep, Reliford said. I’d just stay up crying. The question...why, why did this happen? Why am I going through this? Why me, Lord why?”
Joshua's lawyer, Brett Emison, explained the horrible details.
"You might have heard of ammonium nitrate,” Emison said. “It’s the explosive that Timothy McVeigh used to take down a federal building in Oklahoma City. That’s what they put in these air bags to inflate the bags."
Takata was hit with a $1 billion penalty. Joshua saw none of that money and sued the company for an undisclosed amount.
Peter Schweizer president of the Government Accountability Institute, a watchdog group, says what happened to Joshua is part of a broader pattern in this country of large companies paying large fines that often don't reach those impacted by the problem.
“If you’re issuing a recall and if the company is being fined, some of that money ought to go to the people. What’s really troubling about this -- the exception to the rule are instances where actually victims receive the funds,” Schweizer, said.
Instead, much of the money ends up with the U.S. Treasury for Congress to decide where and how it should be spent.
Spotlight on America looked into some of the fines collected by three major government agencies, adding up to more than $35 billion.
In the last two years, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) levied about $56 million in fines for issues ranging from a company's failure to report a dangerous defect in its off-road vehicles to potentially hazardous gas ranges.
Every cent, they told us, went to the U.S. Treasury.
And when Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Citigroup were hit with billions of dollars in fines for helping to inflate a mortgage bubble that led to the financial crisis in 2008, only part of that money went for consumer relief. But $11 billion went to the U.S. Treasury.
"If they’re going to pocket the money, Schweizer said, tell the American people you’re pocketing the money."
And tell that to people like Joshua Reliford whose life has been permanently altered.
"I lost my vision in one of my eyes, and I have to live with this every day for the rest of my life."
Joshua and others like him are left to wonder why it's the federal government that often comes out ahead when these company's mistakes leave so many victims and their families so far behind.