More than two dozen Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday blasting White House plans to revive “slush fund” settlements, wherein federal agencies redirect taxpayer dollars to third-party interest groups.
In May, the Department of Justice (DOJ) published an interim rule to bring back the Obama-era practice in which the administrative state sends settlement money to entities that are not directly involved in the dispute.
“The Obama DOJ secretly negotiated settlements requiring defendants to pay ‘donations’ to activist groups, including the National Council of La Raza, the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition,” lawmakers wrote. “In exchange for every dollar of these mandatory ‘donations’ made, defendants received two dollars credited towards their settlement obligations, thus greatly reducing the overall monetary amount to be paid out by the defendants.”
The letter drew 20 signatures in the House and 15 in the Senate, including Texas Rep. Lance Gooden and Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville who led the effort. Each has proposed companion legislation in their respective chambers to ban the practice of government settlements involving outside groups known as “slush fund” settlements.
Tuberville reintroduced the “Stop the Settlement Slush Fund Act” last summer after first bringing the bill forward five years ago. Gooden introduced a House version of the bill in October.
“President Biden knows Republicans are set to regain control of the House next year and is determined to circumvent the constitutional role of Congress to fund his radical agenda,” Gooden told The Federalist. “Settlement agreement payments should go to the victims, not fund Democrats’ partisan pet projects.”
“Serious conflicts of interest arise and public trust is eroded when the DOJ requires defendants to donate to activist groups selected by the DOJ,” lawmakers wrote to Garland. “What is even more alarming is the glaring lack of transparency; more than 11 years after the practice began, Congress and the American people still have no idea where or how the majority of funds directed to third parties, which amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars, was spent.”
While 14 senators joined Tuberville in signing the letter, only one, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, is a co-sponsor of Tuberville’s legislation. Only 15 members of the House have signed onto Gooden’s proposal.
The letter to Garland comes a month after President Joe Biden’s deputies at the Department of the Interior dismantled a Trump-era website publicizing agency settlements and consent decrees. The website closure signals the return of a similar practice among environmental agencies known as “sue and settle,” wherein friendly interest groups present a legal challenge to a federal policy with proposed changes that the administration endorses. The agency in turn voluntarily settles and enacts the preferred policy outcome under the cover of the courts, and the allied interest groups pocket a handsome payout of taxpayer dollars in the process.