They Sue for the King
In the 1980’s, when paucity of oversight invited household-name companies to fleece taxpayers of an estimated ten percent of the U.S. federal budget, and whistleblowers exposing government contract fraud were mercilessly punished for their perceived infidelities, a studious young California public interest lawyer happened upon a forgotten code dating back to the Civil War.
In an 1863 effort to root out widespread corruption against the Union Army, Abraham Lincoln drew from old English common law to introduce the False Claims Act, calling upon everyday citizens to join the fight against defense industry swindlers. The law had, however, had been weakened over the following generations to the point of impotence by business interests.
This film is about the revival of the law, which gives whistleblowers the right to sue on behalf of the government, as if they are private prosecutors. It incentivizes them to take great risks for the possibility of a share in the recovered stolen money.
These whistleblowers, of a very different ilk than Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, have become America’s most effective check on corporate fraud, at a time when aggressive privatization and deregulation in government is leaving fewer watchdogs to guard the public interest.