Watchdog or cash cow?

November 7, 2014 08:19 AM
No good deed goes unpunished

Reportedly, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission CFTC) in fiscal 2014 collected roughly $3.3 billion as a result of its enforcement efforts, yet it rarely receives from Congress its budget requests, which are a tiny fraction of that amount. The fines are not retained by the CFTC but, instead, go into the Treasury Department's coffers to be used as it sees fit.

Now, I am no fan of a regulatory mindset that puts bragging rights ahead of fair law enforcement. And we cannot rule out the risk that large settlements can have that effect. But I believe that revenue generation should be considered by congressional budget committees when assessing an agency's funding requests. Neither the CFTC nor any other regulator should be viewed as a "cash cow" that generates money for the Government at a mega-multiple of its operating costs.

If the CFTC were a private company, it would be ripe for an IPO that might dwarf the Alibaba launch. Its "return on investment" is huge.

On the other hand, we don't want to see another example of the old and discredited practice where the salaries of justices of the peace were tied to how many fines they collected. This is a recipe for injustice. At the same time, every agency must submit a budget to the Congress with a detailed justification for every line item. That brake on over-budgeting and on calibrating funding based on revenues generated is a powerful one.

All I am saying is that budgets that are carefully rationalized should not be reduced by the Hill just because it has the power to do so - often in the name of "over-regulation." If opponents of “Big Government” want to make a statement through fiscal means, why don't they direct the Treasury Department to stop accepting the tens of billions of dollars in regulatory fines generated by agencies under their remit?

Don't hold your breath.

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