That kind of money can come in handy. For example, the office of Rhode Island’s attorney-general recently bought the building next door to its headquarters, adding to a statewide shopping spree by law-enforcement institutions that included squad cars, tasers, rifles, a police station and the replenishment of underfunded police pensions. Footing the bill is Google, which chose to pay $500m, split between the state and the federal government, to settle claims arising from its acceptance of ads for prescription drugs from Canada. The only unusual feature about this case is that Rhode Island has provided information on how the cash is being used.
“Contrary to the conventional wisdom,” write Margaret Lemos and Max Minzner in an article in January’s Harvard Law Review, “public enforcers often seek large monetary awards for self-interested reasons divorced from the public interest in deterrence. The incentives are strongest when enforcement agencies are permitted to retain all or some of the proceeds of enforcement—an institutional arrangement that is common at the state level and beginning to crop up in federal law.”