Activists protest outside Wells Fargo's corporate headquarters in New York City on October 5, 2016.

Activists protest outside Wells Fargo's corporate headquarters in New York City on October 5, 2016.

(Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Democrats, Progressive Groups Push DOJ to Publish Database of 'Corporate Lawbreaking'

"The Corporate Crime Database Act will bring transparency to the corporate crime crisis so that the DOJ and other law enforcement agencies can better reckon with this greed-driven menace," said one advocate.

After three congressional Democrats on Tuesday unveiled the Corporate Crime Database Act, which would direct the U.S. Department of Justice to make information about corporate wrongdoing and efforts to curb it publicly available, dozens of progressive organizations and individuals implored federal lawmakers to pass the legislation as quickly as possible.

"The runaway consequences of rogue corporations are nothing short of catastrophic."

Introduced by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.), and Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.), the bicameral legislation would, according to the lawmakers, require the Justice Department "to collect, aggregate, analyze, and publish comprehensive data on federal corporate criminal enforcement actions."

As the trio--which sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland last month urging him to begin systematically tracking the DOJ's attempts to crack down on corporate crime--noted on Tuesday, people in the U.S. currently lack access to this crucial information.

"While the Department of Justice regularly collects data on nearly every type of street-level crime, there is very little reporting of corporate and white-collar crimes, with the last thorough DOJ report on corporate crime being in 1979," said Scanlon. "Without data or transparency, lawmakers, journalists, and the public are left in the dark about the size and scope of corporate crime in America and the effectiveness of the federal government's response."

Durbin argued that "comprehensive, national data collection and a searchable public database of the results of federal enforcement actions against corporations and individual actors engaging in corporate misconduct would provide better oversight, inform DOJ's corporate criminal prosecution practices, and demonstrate the effectiveness of corporate sanctions."

Blumenthal echoed his colleague, saying that the legislation would "aid efforts to fight criminal corporate conduct."

"Collecting and reporting data on enforcement actions against white-collar criminals are essential to holding wrongdoers accountable," said Blumenthal. "By providing this critical information, the Corporate Crime Database Act will deter future crimes and protect victims."

The new bill was welcomed by a coalition of more than three dozen progressive advocacy groups and scholars. In a letter to members of Congress, the coalition wrote that "this legislation would address a shocking gap in public knowledge about corporate lawbreaking--and the federal government's actions to address it."

The letter continues:

Corporate lawbreaking harms millions upon millions of Americans every year... A Harvard Business School analysis recently concluded that major firms are engaging in misconduct at least twice a week. Health and safety violations sicken, injure, and kill countless Americans, while data security violations place individuals' finances and personal safety at risk. Investors and shareholders, meanwhile, are lured into fraudulent schemes.

The annual cost of corporate and white-collar crime to Americans is estimated at between $300 and $800 billion a year, while street-level crimes cost about $16 billion. Yet, while the FBI releases a detailed report on crime in the United States every year focusing on street-level crimes, the Department of Justice has not released a report on corporate crime since 1979. This information asymmetry mirrors outdated enforcement priorities that concentrate disproportionate resources toward arresting low-level offenders while turning a blind eye to the crimes of the powerful.

"The Corporate Crime Database act would begin to correct this historic oversight by requiring the DOJ to release an annual report on corporate crime," according to the coalition, which includes Public Citizen, Food and Water Watch, the Institute for Policy Studies, and Oxfam America.

As the letter points out: "Enforcement agencies penalize numerous lawbreaking corporations every year. But the lack of a unified authority on corporate enforcement data when corporations break different laws in different enforcement jurisdictions--such as when a single company violates consumer protection laws, employment laws, and environmental laws--means corporate recidivism goes unnoticed."

"Between 10% and 20% of the DOJ's criminal resolutions against large corporations involve repeat offenders," the letter continues, citing an estimate from Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco. "Inconsistencies across how agencies report enforcement against corporate lawbreaking is a barrier to understanding the scope and scale of these corporate misdeeds. A whole-of-government approach is needed."

Signatories argued that "the Corporate Crime Database Act would introduce much-needed consistency to how federal agencies report corporate wrongdoing in a way that would be particularly effective for holding corporate recidivists accountable."

After summarizing the devastating effects of corporate wrongdoing, Public Citizen president Robert Weissman made the case for why he thinks this new legislation would make a positive difference in the lives of ordinary people.

"Corporate crime sickens consumers, rips off investors, and robs workers of their livelihoods," said Weissman. "It pollutes our environment, exploits our private data, and corrupts our government. It crashes planes, smashes automobiles, and devastates struggling communities."

"The runaway consequences of rogue corporations are nothing short of catastrophic--yet more than four decades have passed since the DOJ has released any kind of comprehensive report on corporate crime," Weissman continued. "Enough is enough."

"The Corporate Crime Database Act will bring transparency to the corporate crime crisis so that the DOJ and other law enforcement agencies can better reckon with this greed-driven menace," he added. "That data will help the public hold these agencies accountable if enforcement efforts fall short."

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