On May 17, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) reintroduced a bipartisan bill entitled the Truth in Settlements Act of 2017 (S. 1145) to increase the transparency of major settlements reached by federal enforcement agencies. The bill—which was referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs—seeks to inform the public and hold federal regulators accountable for the true value of these settlements by requiring more accessible, detailed disclosures and “adequate information regarding the tax treatment of payments” made by companies and individuals under settlements with federal agencies. As previously covered in InfoBytes, the bill was first introduced in 2014. Sen. Warren commented that “more transparency means Congress, citizens and watchdog groups can better hold regulatory agencies accountable for enforcing laws so that everyone—even corporate CEOs—are equal under the law.” Similarly, Sen. Lankford remarked, “Taxpayers deserve an open and transparent government that is accountable to the American people.”
Notably, the proposed bill would demand more specificity and transparency by requiring federal agencies to post online, in a searchable format, a list of each covered settlement agreement, criminal or civil, with payments totaling $1 million or more. Furthermore, agencies will be required, among other things, to justify confidentiality provisions and explain whether any portion of the settlement amount is potentially tax deductible. The Senators also released a fact sheet detailing past settlements by federal agencies that have allowed tax deductions, offset credits, or designated agreements as confidential.