When a government agency regulates people and businesses, it must comply with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and various other federal statutes that limit government power. It has four basic purposes:
1. To require agencies to keep the public currently informed of their organization, procedures and rules (sec. 3).
2. To provide for public participation in the rule making process (sec. 4).
3. To prescribe uniform standards for the conduct of formal rule making (sec. 4 (b)) and adjudicatory proceedings (sec. 5), i.e., proceedings which are required by statute to be made on the record after opportunity for an agency hearing (secs. 7 and 8).
4. To restate the law of judicial review (sec. 10).
Note carefully the requirement for transparency (#1) and public participation (#2).
In addition, many government agencies are required to conduct cost benefit analyses of their rules so as to ensure that the regulatory burden is not excessive relative to the benefits.
All of thse protections--public scrutiny, public awareness, cost effectiveness-get tossed out the window, however, when the government regulates by prosecution. To be sure, this is a long tanding problem. Law professor Roberta Karmel wrote a great book Regulation by Prosecution on the problem as far back as 1982. But now the problem is far worse, as an expose by Fortune explains:
If you’re running a Fortune 100 company, there’s a 10% chance you’ve got Justice Department lawyers helping you out.
That’s according to preliminary data compiled by researchers at George Mason University, who studied more than 500 criminal settlements between the Justice Department and public companies between 1984 and 2011. The data, which will be refined and released in a report in early 2015, shows that the Justice Department has drastically increased its use of non-prosecution (NPA) and deferred prosecution agreements (DPA) since 2003.
NPAs and DPAs are agreements between prosecutors at the Justice Department and corporations in which the DOJ grants amnesty from criminal conviction in return for the defendant agreeing to a set of requirements, which range from the payment of fines to submitting to new regulations and the creation of new business plans. ...
Copland points to examples where such agreements have resulted in corporate monitors firing executives and board members and changing sales and marketing plans. He argues that these agreements have led to the creation of a “shadow regulatory state” that has not been sanctioned by Congress or, in some cases, even reviewed by a judge.
If the government is going to persist in using NPAs and DPAs as a de facto substitute for regulation, then the government should be forced to ensure that these agreements are subject to the same transparency, public participation, and cost benefit analysis as regulations.