Hardly a day passes without news of another multi-million (sometimes billion) dollar fine against some company for harming other people. The cheque, however, isn't written to the victims but rather to the US Treasury or some state authority, where it is spent on other things.
Punishing transgressors is fine, but the disposition of the resulting bounty seems far wide of the mark.
Forget, for now, that innocent shareholders actually pay the fines in the form of falling share prices. Set aside that the employees truly responsible escape both financial and physical punishment far too often.
What about those against whom the dastardly deed was perpetrated? They must either absorb the huge cost of litigation alone, or seek to overcome the considerable hurdle of obtaining "class action" status where all victims can share the expense equally.
Why not pass a constitutional amendment or valid legislation that gives victims a priority claim to any sums collected by law enforcement?
True, this would require a complex settlement process that may have its own imperfections (see BP's oil spill or the distributions following the Madoff and MF Global affairs), but it trumps the current model where the largess received by the government can be (and is) used for entirely different purposes.
There is something unseemly about the present system. It enriches the wrong people. How different is it from a scheme where police take a bribe for tearing up a speeding ticket or allowing drugs to cross national borders?
Let's remember those who were harmed by letting them recoup their losses first. The remainder (if any) can be retained by the government and used as it sees fit.