Skip to main content

Common Dreams. Journalism funded by people, not corporations.

There has never been—and never will be—an advertisement on our site except for this one: without readers like you supporting our work, we wouldn't exist.

No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news and opinion 365 days a year that is freely available to all and funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

Our mission is clear. Our model is simple. If you can, please support our Fall Campaign today.

Support Our Work -- No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. Please support our Fall Campaign today.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin leaves the offices of Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) after negotiations on a $2 trillion economic stimulus plan at the U.S. Capitol March 24, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Only Oversight of Oversight Will Keep Profiteers From Siphoning Stimulus Money Into Their Own Wallets

Just how much money is in the CARES Act? At $1 per second, it would take 60,000 years to hand it all out.

Dwell on $2 trillion.

Hand out a dollar every second, and it takes almost two weeks to get to $1 million. It takes about 31 years to hand out $1 billion. And about 30,000 years to hand out $1 trillion.

American taxpayers are now handing out $2 trillion — 60,000 years’ worth of $1 per second. That’s what’s provided in the CARES Act, signed into law March 27. Ideally, we are handing those dollars back to ourselves in the form of payments to those with no safety net, to those who will quickly run through their savings because they’ve lost their jobs, to small businesses struggling to keep workers on their payrolls, and to pay for the critical medical supplies and support the front line workers administering the care our nation needs.

"With so much money exiting Washington, D.C., it will be paramount to keep corporate profiteers from siphoning this money into their own wallets."

With so much money exiting Washington, D.C., it will be paramount to keep corporate profiteers from siphoning this money into their own wallets. One would hope these times of world crisis would sober any connivers. As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted recently, however, “Where there’s money there’s also frequently mischief.”

As Congress began fashioning the CARES Act, Public Citizen and other groups worked with lawmakers to formulate several oversight mechanisms. Slivers of these proposals made it into the Senate version when Minority Leader Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) bargained with the GOP, which was apparently content with President Donald Trump’s promise that he would “be the oversight.”

The CARES Act provides three oversight bodies: a new Special Inspector General (IG) for Pandemic Recovery (SIGPR); a five-member Congressional Oversight Commission and a Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC), composed of more than 20 inspectors general of various agencies. Those chosen for those posts must be rigorous in their attention to detail, steeped in financial knowledge and aggressive in their work.

On April 2, Pelosi announced the additional creation of a new congressional committee to oversee the bailout, to be chaired by Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C).  And Rep. Maxine Waters, chair of the House Financial Services Committee, pledged to watch Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin carefully. “The Foreclosure King,” as critics dubbed him, abused federal assistance during the Wall Street crash when he evicted thousands of mortgages holders of the failed IndyMac that he bottom-fished, then repackaged it as OneWest and resold it for a handsome personal profit.

Mnuchin also will be closely scrutinized by Public Citizen and other government watchdogs. As we look for the relief package’s promised transparency on the disbursement of bailout funds, we expect regular, searchable data on which corporate players are getting taxpayer dollars.

The SIGPR and PRAC enjoy subpoena powers, as do congressional committees. As the Mueller and impeachment proceedings demonstrated, the Trump administration may well stonewall these queries. Chillingly, in his signing statement on the CARES Act, Trump explicitly detailed his unwillingness to cooperate with investigators. He called some requirements “not mandatory” and said there would be “presidential supervision” over the SIGPR. The law clearly states the opposite. The SIGPR, by design, is supposed to be independent, not an employee of Trump.

Trump doubled down when he nominated Brian Miller to this post last week. Miller serves as associate in the Office of the White House Counsel. He helped defend the president during the impeachment proceedings. His office undoubtedly worked on the signing statement. He’s not independent. Meanwhile, at the same time Trump appointed Miller, he fired the Inspector General of the intelligence community, the person who relayed the whistleblower complaint to Congress about the July 2019 Ukraine call. Clearly, Trump doesn’t welcome independent oversight, (which he proved yet again on April 6 when he removed Glenn Fine from his position as the acting IG at the Pentagon effectively removing him from his brand new role as head of the PRAC.)

Robustly implementing this oversight is not enough though; in the next package, lawmakers must close the loopholes.

First, the new Special IG must have subpoena power. To check abuse, they must have ready access to both documents and persons involved in the distribution of the funds. Similarly, both the SIGPR, the Congressional Oversight Commission and the PRAC must be given live access to the computer servers of the Treasury and any agency shoving money out its doors. When someone’s hovering over your shoulder, you’re less likely to play Minesweeper or Solitaire on the computer, let alone cut a check for a crony.

"Executive pay should be on the hook if the aided companies are found guilty of misconduct. Having the company pay means taxpayers pay for misconduct."

Then there’s the so-called Mnuchin-loophole. The Treasury Secretary has power to waive the few conditions placed on aided companies, such as banning dividends and buybacks and curbing some CEO pay. This waiver power must be eliminated.

The whistleblower law must be improved. Workers will be the front line against fraud and abuse of these bailouts and must feel free to come forward. Trump’s public abuse of the Ukraine scandal whistleblower portends dark days for these heroes unless Congress steps up protections.

Executive pay should be on the hook if the aided companies are found guilty of misconduct. Having the company pay means taxpayers pay for misconduct.

Finally, we need a tripartite board to oversee each specific corporation or sector that get bailout money. The CARES Act is supposed to protect Americans — workers suddenly without paychecks, those with no savings, others facing economic misfortune and those sickened by the virus.

Corporations receiving aid must understand that their mission has now changed; no longer can these be profit-maximizing, expense-minimizing enterprises. Instead, they must now be vehicles for paychecks. Hence, they should each be governed by a tripartite board, where a labor envoy serves along with a government and management expert. Such a board, with power to veto investment decisions, can keep the aid straight.

In short, there must be oversight. And more oversight. And oversight of oversight. Any percentage of $2 trillion is an awful lot to squander.

Originally published by Public Citizen.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Lisa Gilbert

Lisa Gilbert

Lisa Gilbert is the director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division.

Bartlett Naylor

Bartlett Naylor is a financial policy advocate at Congress Watch, a project of Public Citizen. www.citizen.org
Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Outrageous and Shameful': Dems May Cut Paid Leave Due to Manchin's Opposition

Decrying the plan, advocacy groups vowed that "the American people are not going to allow that essential human need to be ignored and negotiated away behind closed doors."

Jessica Corbett ·


Open Letter Warns Trump's 'Big Lie' GOP Poses Existential Threat to Democracy

"Now is the time for leaders in all walks of life—for citizens of all political backgrounds and persuasions—to come to the aid of the republic."

Brett Wilkins ·


Ahead of Historic House Hearing, Fresh Big Oil Misinformation Campaign Exposed

"It's always helpful to remember that big fossil fuel companies (besides being overwhelmingly responsible for carbon pollution) are also skeevy disinformation hucksters."

Jessica Corbett ·


'Very Welcome' Progress as Iran Agrees to Restart Talks on Nuclear Deal Sabotaged by Trump

One peace advocate urged all sides to reconvene negotiations "as soon as possible and with renewed urgency" to avert "disastrous" consequences for Iran and the world.

Brett Wilkins ·


House Progressives: 'When We Said These Two Bills Go Together, We Meant It'

"Moving the infrastructure bill forward without the popular Build Back Better Act risks leaving behind working people, families, and our communities."

Andrea Germanos ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo