$10,000-a-Day Fines Mean Nothing to Trump - He Should Pay a Percentage of His Income
If Trump were to simply ignore AG James’ subpoena and drag things out, it would cost him around $3.6 million a year: that’s chump change for a billionaire oligarch
Last Thursday New York’s Attorney General Leticia James asked a state judge to fine Donald Trump $10,000-a-day until he complies with a subpoena from last December requiring him to turn over documents relating to the development of a fancy estate in upstate New York. The deadline had been March 3rd, but Trump is still procrastinating.
Ten thousand dollars a day seems like a lot of money to most of us, but consider Donald Trump’s situation: he has billions, and access to billions more through friends he made when president.
The dictator of Saudi Arabia, for example, just apparently paid-off Trump’s son-in-law to the tune of $2 billion, as documented by Judd Legum at Popular.info. Legum argues the money was given to Kushner for engineering a coverup of MBS’s murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and the transfer — against the wishes of Congress, which Trump vetoed — of millions in weaponry the Saudis could us in their brutal war against Yemen.
If Trump were to simply ignore AG James’ subpoena and drag things out, it would cost him around $3.6 million a year: that’s chump change for a billionaire oligarch like him. He wouldn’t even notice it.
As Andrea Junker notes on Twitter:
From traffic tickets to civil penalties and fines, America generally runs a flat-rate system. And, just like a flat-tax system, a flat-rate-for-all-fines system inconveniences the middle class, deeply wounds the poor, and is meaningless to the morbidly rich.
Not every country counts fines this way. Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland and France all have systems where rich people pay higher fines than the poor or middle class; Finland’s was first introduced in 1921.
Every now and then one of those fines catches American media’s attention and provokes a few days of discussion, like when Finnish multimillionaire Reima Kuisla was hit with a roughly $60,000 fine for going 64 MPH in a 50 MPH speed zone.
But what are called “day fines” in Europe, scaled to a portion of a person’s daily income, have never caught on here in America.
It’s not that they’d be considered unconstitutional: in 2018 the University of Chicago Law Review published an in-depth analysis of the system of day fines and concluded that it would almost certainly pass the test of constitutionality, barring a corrupted court.
And it’s not a new idea. Hitting rich people with fines large enough to eat a few days or weeks’ worth of income was first proposed by Montesquieu in 1748 in his Spirit of the Laws.
“But do not rich people fear the loss of their goods?” the political philosopher asked. “Cannot pecuniary penalties be proportionate to fortunes? And, finally,” he added, presumably thinking of a high-profile serial criminal 1748 version of Trump, “cannot infamy be joined with these penalties?”
Across America, towns and cities are reconsidering their cash bail laws because they’re largely meaningless to the wealthy and often have a brutal and disproportionate impact on middle- and low-income people.
If somebody is dangerous to the public, the thinking goes, they should be held in jail until trial; if they’re not dangerous and won’t flee, they should be able to go home.
A similar sense of proportionality should be applied to civil and criminal fines. In Finland, for example, the “day fines” are based on extracting a portion of a certain number of days of a person’s income, based on the severity of the offense.
They’re called “day fines” because they’re based on how much money a person makes in a single day.
For traffic tickets, the Finns start with the goal of extracting about half of the walking-around or “spending money” a person has left over after living expenses are covered out of what they earn in a day.
As offenses become more severe, Finnish courts apply a multiplier to that half-day’s amount, all the way up to 120 days: an amount 240 times greater than the least severe offense.
It’s a cliché to note that America has two justice systems, one for the rich and another for everybody else, but it’s also true. Corrupt oligarchs like Trump are the primary beneficiaries of such a system, and poor people hit with traffic fines or court costs are the system’s main victims.
Tens of thousands of Americans lose their freedom every year because they can’t cover what would be irrelevant fees, fines, or court costs to a wealthy person. This is morally wrong, legally stupid, and should not be happening in America. Debtors prisons are supposed to be unconstitutional.
This principle is ancient. In 1215, in a field at Runnymede, King John put his seal on the Magna Carta, defining the rights of British citizens relative to the powers of the Crown. It’s 14th article specifically states that a citizen can not be hit with a fine that exceeds his ability to provide for his family (“his sufficiency”):
“A freeman is not to be amerced for a small offence save in accordance with the manner of the offence, and for a major offence according to its magnitude, saving his sufficiency (salvo contenemento suo)…”
Calibrating fines based on a person’s income or net worth would bring abusers of the system like Donald Trump up short. It would also mean low-income people wouldn’t end up in jail because they couldn’t cover a $200 speeding ticket or court fee.
It’s time to bring some common sense and fairness to our justice system. Adopting “day fines” that are as meaningful to Donald Trump as to the janitor in his building when they break the law is a great place to start.
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I like the idea of a day fine, but what I also find upsetting is the source of the money someone like Trump uses to pay fines. Not only is he getting away with a low fine in proportion to his income, but he's using money that he didn't earn himself, but that comes from his supporters incomes. To someone who has no conscience, that doesn't even register, but for anyone who does possess a conscience, it's upsetting. Very similar to those who use other people's money to earn their living, because they don't relish the thought of getting their own hands dirty.
During a homeless count, I was lucky to meet a young man who educated me about the horrors of our fine system and what can happen for non-payment. He was on his own at a young age with no family support system. He worked and had an apartment, UNTIL he was cited for some simple traffic violations. Unable to pay the fines and subsequent penalties, he lost his apartment and job. He was determined to fight his way back, but what an outrage!
It's pretty easy to confirm who is living paycheck to paycheck, and they should have community service alternatives. Like so many common sense ideas that come out of the Nordic countries, the "day fines" would be another great way to balance the scales of justice.