Taxpayers pay three times for special interest litigation.
First, we pay to subsidize tax-sheltered special interest non-government organizations (like the Center for Biological Diversity).
Second: Taxpayers pay lawyers’ fees and the costs of special interest NGOs’ litigation for all lawsuits under the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, among other legislation.
Third: Taxpayers cover the cost of settlements and payouts. A special Congressional line item called the Judgment Fund is set aside for the federal government to pay out when it loses a lawsuit brought by special interest NGO’s.
This litigation doesn’t even provide a benefit to taxpayers. This is a slush fund for lawyers, preserved so that NGO’s can sue the federal government for not enforcing their legislation enough. This increases the cost of business both by raising tax payouts from individuals and corporations and through enhanced enforcement of environmental laws that increase the cost of doing business.
It would be one thing to spend millions of dollars on litigation that provided real benefits to the public, but Judgment Fund-financed litigation does not even pretend to benefit taxpayers. In fact, other legislation forbids government defendants from recovering tax dollars wasted in these lawsuits.
When a taxpaying individual or corporation is injured by government non-enforcement of environmental laws, the individual entity has standing to file a lawsuit on its own behalf. An entity only files for recovery when an injury costs more than the anticipated cost of a suit. The cost bar prevents frivolous suits and unnecessary expense for taxpayers.
By funding both litigation and winnings with taxpayer dollars, the Judgment Fund makes lawsuits seem artificially inexpensive. In reality, charging costs to taxpayers just passes on the cost to the entire country.
The Judgment Fund — a mere line-item in the federal budget — encourages environmental activist groups to litigate much more than they would otherwise. This arrangement not only wastes taxpayer dollars, it also undermines democracy, by allowing environmental lawyer-activists and administrative agencies to enact policies while bypassing Congress. Thankfully, Congress has the authority to put a stop to this madness. It should do so.