The Need to Punish Corporate Criminals

Halliburton was recently fined $200,000 and given three years’ probation after its admission that it destroyed evidence related to the 2010 BP oil spill. And that soft “punishment” the company received is the very reason The Hill’s Ronald Goldfarb says that the “legal fiction that corporations are entities that are distinct from the parties running them” makes for terrible public policy.

Ronald Goldfarb via The Hill:

The Washington Post, Slate and others have reported that Halliburton executives destroyed the results of internal tests affecting its level of responsibility for the disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill. They were not prosecuted. What were their salaries? Bonuses? In understated language, media revealed that the corporate fine was “unlikely to make a noticeable mark in its balance sheet,” though its admissions should have an effect on its responsibilities in pending civil suits pertaining to the same events.

….My now-deceased father used to lament that if a small debtor owed a small amount to a banker or creditor, he’d be hammered, while a tycoon who owed zillions usually could work out some settlement. Better to owe a lot, he’d posit, than a little.

The same thought applies to criminal responsibility. If we are ever to deter serious, far-flung criminal behavior by corporations, the guilty officials ought to face criminal prosecution.

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