Wyoming delegation fights activist lawsuits
February 24, 2017
Introduces legislation to force transparency on organizations using taxpayer money to fund political agendas
U.S. Senators John Barrasso and Mike Enzi and U.S. Representative Liz Cheney, all R-Wyo., recently introduced the Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act. The legislation prevents abuse of the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) by large environmental groups and others who frequently challenge the federal government in court.
The Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act will increase transparency by creating a public database where fees paid under EAJA are clearly listed and available to the public. Under the bill, veterans, Social Security claimants, individuals and small businesses will still have full access to EAJA funds.
"For years, special interest groups have funded their anti-multiple use agenda with Americans' hard-earned taxpayer dollars," said Barrasso. "It's absolutely absurd that Washington pays outside groups to repeatedly sue our government. It's time to return EAJA back to its original intent of helping our nation's veterans, seniors and small businesses. Our bill will restore accountability and transparency."
"For too long, the Equal Access to Justice Act has been abused by special interest groups in order to push their environmental agendas through the courts," Enzi said. "One of the most fundamental problems facing this act is the lack of transparency. This bill would reinstate important reporting requirements in order to track the cost of excessive litigation to the American taxpayer, and make sure the law is working to help the small businesses, seniors, and veterans for whom the law was passed in the first place."
"I'm proud to co-sponsor this legislation that will help end the abuse of EAJA by environmental groups trying to force their agenda through onerous and expensive litigation. This bill will take the program meant to help our seniors, small business owners and veterans and get it back on track by putting into place a much needed tracking system so taxpayers can see how their money is being spent. We need to see more openness and transparency in our federal programs and we need to stop the kinds of abuses we are seeing in the EAJA program, which is why I am pleased to co-sponsor this bill alongside Senators Mike Enzi and John Barrasso," said Cheney.
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The Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act was introduced by Barrasso and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and co-sponsored by Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY), Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Jim Risch (R-ID). The companion bill was led in the House of Representatives by Representative Doug Collins (R-GA) and co-sponsored by Reps. Liz Cheney (R-WY), Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Raul Labrador (R-ID), Collin Peterson (D-MN), Kurt Schrader (D-OR), and Glenn Thompson (R-PA).
EAJA was passed in 1980 to help individuals, small businesses and nonprofit organizations with limited access to financial resources defend themselves against harmful government actions. EAJA allows for the reimbursement of attorney's fees and costs associated with suing the federal government. When operating correctly, EAJA allows plaintiffs who sue the federal government to recover part of their attorney's fees and costs if they "prevail" in the case.
Congress and the agencies halted tracking and reporting of payments made through EAJA in 1995.
According to research by a Wyoming law firm, 14 environmental groups have brought more than 1,200 such federal cases in 19 states and the District of Columbia, and have collected more than $37 million in taxpayer dollars through EAJA or other similar laws.
Those numbers do not include settlements and fees sealed from public view. An independent study from Virginia Tech University discovered similar findings as a result of a comprehensive Freedom of Information Act request to five federal agencies. The Virginia Tech study also revealed that two of these agencies could provide absolutely no data on EAJA payments.