Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced the Corporate Executive Accountability Act on Wednesday. The proposed legislation seeks to hold executives of large corporations criminally responsible “when their companies commit crimes, harm large numbers of Americans through civil violations, or repeatedly violate federal law.”
Warren, a candidate for president, also reintroduced the Ending Too Big to Jail Act, a bill seeking to hold big bank executives accountable when the banks they lead break the law.
“Corporations don’t make decisions, people do, but for far too long, CEOs of giant corporations that break the law have been able to walk away, while consumers who are harmed are left picking up the pieces,” she said in a statement. “These two bills would force executives to responsibly manage their companies, knowing that if they cheat their customers or crash the economy, they could go to jail.”
Executives at large corporations often escape prosecution because it is hard to demonstrate that they are personally aware of all their company’s actions, Warren explained. Some federal laws, however, including the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Clean Air Act, already impose criminal liability on corporate leaders when a company’s negligence causes massive harm, regardless of whether they personally approved actions that broke the law.
The Corporate Executive Accountability Act, Warren said, builds on these existing federal statues “and makes it easier to send executives to jail for serious crimes by expanding criminal liability to negligent executives of corporations with more than $1 billion in annual revenue” that:
- are found guilty, plead guilty, or enter into a deferred or non-prosecution agreement for any crime;
- are found liable or enter a settlement with any state or Federal regulator for the violation of any civil law if that violation affects the health, safety, finances, or personal data of 1 percent of the American population or 1 percent of the population of any state; or
- are found liable or guilty of a second civil or criminal violation for a different activity while operating under a civil or criminal judgment of any court, a deferred prosecution or non-prosecution agreement, or settlement with any state or federal agency.
Punishment for such a violation under Warren’s proposed legislation would be up to a year in jail, while a second violation would carry up to three years in jail, consistent with the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
The Ending Too Big to Jail Act also seeks to make it easier to hold financial executives accountable by:
- creating a permanent investigative unit for financial crimes within the Treasury Department by giving the Special Inspector General for the bailout the new mission of prosecuting financial crimes;
- requiring executives at big banks larger than $10 billion to certify that there is no criminal conduct or civil fraud within the institution, making it easier to prove wrongdoing if it is later discovered; and
- putting deferred prosecution agreements under the jurisdiction of judges so that they can ensure that the agreements are in the public interest and can supervise their implementation.
The Ending Too Big to Jail Act, first introduced by Warren in March 2018, has been endorsed by Public Citizen, Americans for Financial Reform, Take On Wall Street, and the Communications Workers of America, among others.