Pay up
April 22, 2020

Chipotle Mexican Grill on Tuesday agreed to pay a $25 million fine after being charged with two counts of violating federal food guidelines by "adulterating food while held for sale after shipment in interstate commerce," federal prosecutors said.

Officials said this was the "largest fine ever imposed in a food safety case." The charges stemmed from multiple norovirus outbreaks that occurred from 2015 to 2018, which left more than 1,100 customers sick, prosecutors said. One outbreak in July 2018 in Powell, Ohio, was caused by "critical violations of the local food regulations, including those specific to time and temperature controls for lettuce and beans," prosecutors said. Over the span of eight days, 657 people who ate at the Chipotle became ill.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said Chipotle "failed to ensure that its employees both understood and complied with its food safety protocols, resulting in hundreds of customers across the country getting sick." The company said it has improved safety measures since the incidents, including "reducing the number of employees who come into contact with ingredients" and enacting "safeguards to minimize the risk that an ingredient is undercooked." Catherine Garcia

April 8, 2020

Americans have turned some of their bipartisan ire amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic toward Beijing, a new Harris Poll survey released Wednesday shows.

Per the poll, nearly 90 percent of Republicans believe China, where the coronavirus originated, is responsible for the spread while two-thirds of Democrats surveyed said the same. There's a little more discrepancy across party lines when it comes to how Chinese President Xi Jinping and his government should reckon with their role in exacerbating crisis, but more than half of Americans believe Beijing should pay some form of reparations to other countries.

Among GOP voters, 71 percent think China has a responsibility to compensate other countries for the damage the pandemic has caused. Fewer than half of Democrats agree with that sentiment, but the 41 percent who do is not an insignificant amount.

The Harris Poll was conducted online between between April 3-April 5. A nationally representative sample of 1,993 U.S. adults was surveyed. No margin of error was reported. Read more at The Washington Post and take a look at the full poll results here. Tim O'Donnell

March 11, 2019

The Jeb Bush super PAC Right to Rise has been fined a record $390,000 by the Federal Election Commission for illegally soliciting a contribution from a foreign national.

The Chinese-owned corporation that made the donation, American Pacific International Capital, was fined $550,000. The settlement agreement, posted online by the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, states that American Pacific International Capital made a $1.3 million contribution to Right to Rise.

This is the third-highest fine in FEC history, CNN reports, and the largest since the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which lets corporations and labor unions spend an unlimited amount of money to support or denounce candidates in elections.

Per the settlement, Bush's brother, American Pacific International Capital board member Neil Bush, solicited the contributions, knowing that "fellow board members Gordon Tang and Huaidan Chen were foreign nationals." Because of a legal memo drafted by Right to Rise's counsel, they thought the contributions were acceptable, the settlement states, and "the commission did not find that the violations were knowing and willful." Catherine Garcia

August 1, 2018

Wells Fargo will pay $2.09 billion to settle a case in which the bank was accused of misrepresenting mortgage loan quality, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday.

The bank was under investigation for allegedly creating and selling loans that it knew contained misleading information about buyer incomes, reports CNBC. Wells Fargo did not admit to liability in the settlement, which regarded activity over the past decade.

"Abuses in the mortgage-backed securities industry led to a financial crisis that devastated millions of Americans," said Alex Tse, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, reports Bloomberg. Tse announced the penalty fines in a statement, continuing on to say that "today's agreement holds Wells Fargo responsible for originating and selling tens of thousands of loans that were packaged into securities and subsequently defaulted."

Wednesday's fine was separate from previous financial penalties levied against the bank for forcing customers into buying insurance they didn't need. Summer Meza

April 18, 2018

As the cost of climate change rises, someone has to pay for it.

The city of Boulder, Colorado, along with Boulder and San Miguel Counties, would like the companies responsible to pick up the tab. The regions filed a lawsuit Tuesday against two major fossil fuel companies, The New York Times reports.

The lawsuit places some blame for climate change on the shoulders of Exxon Mobil and Suncor Energy, arguing that the companies' role in exacerbating climate change should make them partly financially responsible for climate-related disasters. Local governments have paid for destruction caused by droughts and wildfires, which can cripple tourism and agriculture, the suit claims.

"Our communities and our taxpayers should not shoulder the cost of climate change adaptation alone," said Boulder Mayor Suzanne Jones, the Times reports. "These oil companies need to pay their fair share."

Boulder is the first non-coastal city to file such a lawsuit. Cities and counties in California and New York have filed similar lawsuits, ThinkProgress reports, and all have used the argument that parties responsible for a public "nuisance" should be held responsible. On the coasts, plaintiffs argued that fossil fuel companies were contributing to rising sea levels. The lawsuit in Colorado expands the accusations against oil companies, arguing that issues from melting snow pack to changes in precipitation are damages resulting from corporate actions.

The companies have fought back against this kind of litigation, with Exxon claiming that opponents are part of a "conspiracy" trying to oppress its "First Amendment right to participate in the national dialogue about climate change." Read more at The New York Times. Summer Meza

April 5, 2018

Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, says the company would have to charge users if they want to opt out of data-driven advertising on the social media platform.

During an interview with Today co-anchor Savannah Guthrie, Sandberg said Facebook does not sell or give away information on users, but "our service depends on your data." On Wednesday, Facebook revealed that up to 87 million users had their personal information improperly shared with the data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica leading up to the 2016 presidential election, and Sandberg acknowledged to Guthrie that Facebook did not properly handle the breach.

"It is definitely the case in 2016 that we were behind and we didn't understand that kind of election interference," she said. "We thought that the data had been deleted, and you're right, we should have checked." Catherine Garcia

March 15, 2017

The U.S. women's national hockey team announced Wednesday that it would not report to the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship this year, citing an ongoing wage dispute with USA Hockey. The women were supposed to report to Plymouth, Michigan, on March 21 for competition set to begin later this month.

"We are asking for a living wage and for USA Hockey to fully support its programs for women and girls and stop treating us like an afterthought," team captain Meghan Duggan said. The women have been engaged in negotiations with USA Hockey that they say have made insufficient progress, as the players seek contracts in all years, not only ones in which Olympics take place. A law firm representing the women's team said USA Hockey typically pays each player $1,000 per month for the six months of an Olympic residency — but pays "virtually nothing" during the rest of the four years in between Games, espnW reported, "despite its expectation that in each of the non-Olympic years, the players train full-time and compete throughout the year."

One player said the national team is a "full-time job" and that sometimes participation "becomes a decision between chasing your dream or giving into the reality of the financial burden." A spokesman for USA Hockey did not respond to requests for comment from multiple outlets, though SB Nation notes USA Hockey could be fined $15,000 by the IIHF for withdrawing from the event. Read the full statement from the U.S. women's team below. Kimberly Alters

December 14, 2016

Several senators have sent a letter to Donald Trump's education secretary pick, Betsy DeVos, calling on her to pay more than $5 million in election fines owed by a school-choice advocacy group she once ran.

All Children Matter lobbies for school-choice legislation, and owes the state of Ohio more than $5.3 million for violations from nearly a decade ago, Politico reports. Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) sent DeVos a letter Wednesday addressing the "significant concerns" they had over the fines and urging her to take care of them. "If confirmed as secretary of education, you would be responsible for administering our nation's student loan programs and ensuring that borrowers repay their loans in a timely manner," the letter stated. "However, the PAC that you chaired failed to pay fines that were imposed on it over eight years ago. This demonstrates a serious lack of judgment by the PAC's board and a willingness to avoid paying legally obligated public debts."

The Ohio Elections Commission said that in 2008, the national PAC, based in Virginia where there are no limits on political contributions, funneled $870,000 in contributions to the now-shuttered Ohio affiliate. Ohio has a $10,000 cap on individual gifts, and this move broke election law. Ed Patry, a spokesman for DeVos, told Politico the legal battle over paying the fines is a "politically driven effort to derail education reform in Ohio," and called the letter "a transparently political maneuver." A Trump transition representative said the fines are no longer legally binding because of the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, though the transfer by DeVos' group took place two years before that. A judge upheld the fine in 2013 and found All Children Matter financially liable, Politico says, though the national PAC reported only $275 on hand at the end of 2015. Catherine Garcia

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