Mattera and his team culled roughly 100,000 entries from the records of 13 environmental, health and safety agencies and the Department of Justice. The data show that over the past five years businesses have paid more than $57 billion in penalties, which includes not only cash fines but also state fines and environmental cleanup costs agreed to as part of a settlement.
BP is the runaway leader, with virtually all of its $25 billion in payments stemming from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Anadarko Petroleum was next, with $5 billion in penalties, almost all of it related to a settlement last year in which it agree to pay for waste cleanup throughout the country.
The other corporations that paid more than $1 billion since 2010 were GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Abbott Laboratories, Transocean, Toyota and Alliant Energy.
Oil and gas companies paid nearly $32 billion, more than their counterparts in any other industry. Pharmaceuticals were next, with nearly $13 billion in payments, followed by utility and power generation companies, which paid just over $3 billion. Car companies paid nearly $3 billion, while chemicals industry accounted for less than $2 billion.
Foreign companies paid a large share of the penalties, giving up $34 billion compared with the $21 billion paid by U.S. corporations. Excluding BP, foreign businesses still accounted for $9 billion of the payments.
Sixteen of the top 100 corporate violators are also among the top 100 government subsidy recipients, according to a separate database also created and maintained by Good Jobs First. Toyota was the only company to break the billion-dollar mark in both categories, having paid at least $1.2 billion in penalties while also receiving at least $1.1 billion in subsidies, over various timespans that differ by state due to availability of records.
Large corporations accounted for the vast majority of payments, with roughly 81 percent coming from companies on the domestic or global Fortune 500 lists. But not all large corporations are big violators. Of the Fortune 50 companies, 21 have paid less than $50,000 in such penalties since 2010, most of them belonging to the financial services, information technology, retail and wholesale industries.
But Mattera is sure that some of them will rank higher as the database expands to cover financial, antitrust, bribery or wage and hour violations: “Eventually we want this to cover kind of all forms of corporate misconduct,” he said.