Lummis’s ‘Open EAJA Act’ of 2010 shines light on payment records
Washington, D.C. – “The Western Legacy Alliance wholeheartedly offers its full support to H.R. 4717, the Open EAJA Act of 2010, which will begin the process of uncovering how deep-pocketed environmental groups and their army of lawyers have abused the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) receiving millions in taxpayer dollars to advance their agenda.”
That’s a quote from the Western Legacy Alliance (WLA), and a sentiment echoed by many agriculture groups after H.R. 4717 was introduced in U.S. Congress March 2.
The bipartisan effort was co-authored by Representatives Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) and Rob Bishop (R-UT).
If passed, the Open EAJA Act of 2010 would require the federal government to create a publicly searchable database of all attorney fees awarded under EAJA, including the total amount of attorney and expert fees paid in each case, the hourly attorney fee charged and who is collecting the taxpayer’s money.
According to Budd-Falen Law Offices of Cheyenne, 14 environmental groups have brought over 1200 federal cases in 19 states and the District of Columbia, and have collected over $37 million in taxpayer dollars through EAJA or other similar laws. Those numbers do not include settlements, and fees sealed from public view.
Information from Rep. Lummis’s office says an independent study from Virginia Tech University discovered similar findings as a result of a comprehensive Freedom of Information Act request of five federal agencies. The Virginia Tech study also revealed that two of these agencies could provide absolutely no data on EAJA payments.
Michael Mortimer, who directed the Virginia Tech study, said, “What the ‘Open EAJA Act of 2010’ does is nothing more than require that agencies paying court-awarded legal fees, costs, or lawsuit settlements under the provisions of the EAJA to track, record, and provide that financial information to Congress and the public in an easily accessible fashion. This bill provides for the much-needed transparency and clarity that should form the foundation of any federal policy – particularly one where taxpayer dollars are being spent to sue our own government.”
“It’s time to shine some light on the high-jacking of the equal justice law by some groups and the environmental litigation industry that supports their ‘stop everything’ agenda,” says Rep. Lummis. “The Open EAJA Act will help restore taxpayer trust in the system by bringing the Equal Access to Justice Act out of the shadows and into the bright light of transparency. I call on everyone who uses and cares for our public lands to support this bill, including the beneficiaries of EAJA payments.”
“Simply put, this legislation is about ensuring good and open government,” says Rep. Herseth Sandlin. “Unfortunately, government tracking of payments under the Equal Access to Justice Act stopped in 1995 and the program has been operating without any oversight for over 15 years. We must restore transparency and oversight over EAJA payments so that we know where and how our taxpayer dollars are being spent while ensuring that the original intent of EAJA is not being abused.”
In addition to WLA, several groups representing businesses and individuals who depend on the nation’s public lands for their livelihood and enjoyment support the bill, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Farmers Union, the Society of American Foresters, the Public Lands Council and the Family Farm Alliance. It is also endorsed by one of the nation’s largest conservation organizations, the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD).
The United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) also applauds the bill’s introduction. The USCA membership adopted policy this year asking Congress to address EAJA abuse.
“Research shows that special interest groups are fleecing the American taxpayers of millions and millions of dollars in taxpayer funding from lawsuits filed against the federal government,” comments Jon Wooster, USCA President, of San Lucas, Calif. “These groups are literally being paid by the federal government to sue the federal government using taxpayer money to do so. The ‘Open EAJA Act of 2010’ will establish much needed transparency and accountability and it is the first step to halting this blatant abuse of the legal system.”
“The Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) was never intended to be used as a funding source for any political cause or as a backdoor to advancing an agenda. Almost 30 years ago, with the best of intentions, Congress passed the EAJA. Simply stated, EAJA said that if the government had done wrong against small businesses, including farms and ranches, and they challenged the government in federal court, they would not have to go bankrupt awash in legal fees protecting their rights,” says WLA. “If they were victorious in court, the government would have to pay their legal fees. It leveled the playing field so that Citizen David could stand up and defend himself against Big Government Goliath.”
According to WLA, EAJA abuse is just the tip of the iceberg as these radical environmental groups have tapped other sources of taxpayer dollars that were never meant for that purpose to fund their agenda.
“As Congress begins the process of following the money trail of EAJA abuse, we urge them to continue uncovering other ways that the taxpayer’s hard earned dollars are being used to advance a particular political agenda and support the ever growing cottage industry of environmental lawyers and the special interests that profit from this abuse,” says WLA.
“U.S. Cattlemen are grateful to Representatives Lummis and Herseth-Sandlin for their action on this important issue,” says Wooster. “I encourage everyone to become engaged in getting this bill passed by submitting a personal letter of support and by urging your club, organization or business to submit a letter as well. It only takes a few minutes to do so and the effort will help halt these abuses.”
“With soaring deficits, Congress needs to ensure that every taxpayer dollar is spent wisely. H.R.4717 should be the first of many steps in that direction,” adds WLA.
Letters of support from organizations and individuals are needed and should be directed to Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis at 1004 Longworth House Office Bldg., Washington, DC 20515; or Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin, 331 Cannon House Office Bldg., Washington, DC 20515.