Civil Liberties

Federal Asset Forfeiture Continues to Skyrocket Under Obama


The Justice Department's asset forfeiture fund under President Obama is the largest it's ever been, having grown from $500 million in 2003, to $1.8 billion in 2011, according to a new report from the GAO. 

In addition to the fund's size, payments from the fund to local law enforcement agencies totalled $445 million in 2011, another all-time high. These payouts are part of the DOJ's "equitable sharing agreement," which incentivizes local cops to conduct federal raids. They then get a portion of the assets seized during the raid (more money if they contribute more resources). That money is then used to finance SWAT and paramilitary training, as well as the acquisition of military grade weapons and equipment. 

While the report doesn't specify the payout from particular investigations, it's likely that in California, which received $80 million in 2011–or 18 percent of all shared asset forfeiture funds given to local and state law enforcement last year–much of the money came from assets seized during raids on medical marijuana dispensaries. (For more on equitable sharing, and the abuses it leads to, read the Insitute for Justice report "Policing for Profit.") 

More noteworthy even than the payout numbers to local and state cops is that the cost of maintaining the asset forfeiture fund has skyrocketed.

In 2008, the last year of the George W. Bush administration, the cost of operating the asset forfeiture fund totalled $409 million. In 2009, the first year of the Obama administration, that number jumped to $512 million. The next year, operating the fund cost $569 million. In 2011, operating the fund cost $491 million.

Where does that money go? According to the GAO report, "Cost drivers include salaries for government employees, information systems costs, asset management and disposal contracts, and contracts for administrative support staff, among other things."

Federal law allows for two different types of asset forfeiture. The GAO describes them as such:

Judicial forfeiture, both civil and criminal, is the process by which property may be forfeited to the United States by filing a forfeiture action in federal court. In civil forfeiture, the action is against the property and thus does not require that the owner of the property be charged with a federal offense. The government must only prove a connection between the property and the crime. By contrast, criminal forfeiture requires a conviction of the defendant before property is subject to forfeiture.

In many states there are limitations to what local law enforcement agencies can seize without seeking a conviction, which is why they often invite the feds to "adopt" their investigations, particularly drug investigations, in order to seize assets without actually charging anyone, or winning a case. (The IJ report linked above explores this loophole in horrifying detail.) 

Here's a list of the largest asset recipient states in 2011:

California cops received $79 million
New York cops received $48 million
Florida cops received $38 million
Texas cops received $31 million
Georgia cops received $30 million
Illinois cops received $16.9 million
Michigan cops received $12.8 million
North Carolina cops received $10 million
Ohio cops received $9.9 million

The report also says that more state legislatures are adopting broader asset forfeiture laws, reducing the need for joint operations with federal law enforcement.

"In 2003, adoptions made up about 23 percent of all equitable sharing payments, while in 2010, adoptions made up about 17 percent of all equitable sharing payments," the report reads."According to DOJ, as more states have established their own forfeiture laws, they may rely less on DOJ to adopt forfeiture cases and may instead pursue forfeitures under state law when appropriate."

If Obama's crackdown on state-legal medical marijuana in California, or the DOJ-led raids of head shops across the Midwest, or the attacks on pharmacies in the Southeast, are any indicator, 2012 will be another banner year for the federal asset forfeiture fund. 

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  1. So the state tells its citizens that marijuana dispensaries are legal, people start dispensary businesses, then the feds raid them with the state’s help, and lets the state share in the proceeds?

    What a racket!

    1. It’s only revenue. How do you think we are going to maintain roads and bridges? Geez.

    2. That marijuana dispensary? You didn’t build that. Someone lese made that happen.

    1. “That money is then used to finance SWAT and paramilitary training, as well as the acquisition of military grade weapons and equipment”.

      This couldn’t possibly go wrong, could it?

  2. Actually, they skyrocketed under BOOOOOOOOOSH! and the guy in Bush’s 3rd term just continued the trend.

    1. The left is such a befuddled mess. Not so much the ones in power, who understand what they want (power to distribute largess to themselves and their friends) but the rank-and-file.

      Case in point: They love Clinton, who was a Republican in all but name for a good portion of his administration. They also love Obama, who, while not “Republican” is definitely 85% the same, policy-wise, as his predecessor. Rhetorically different, yes, but not really different.

      1. Don’t forget that they turn a blind eye to every civil rights abuse that these people do, including asset forfeiture.

        They stand for nothing except the TEAM. Nothing whatsoever.

        1. Yeah, war, most civil liberties violations, and so on.

        2. Well, you just don’t understand the left, that is the problem. You see, Bush did all of the things he did because he is pure evil. Obama does those same things, yes, but he does them out of his great love for the people. Can’t believe that you can’t see the difference.

          1. Yes, yes, I do see. It’s all so clear now.

            1. Damn, that was easy. I thought I was going to have to call you a racist for not accepting my flawless propaganda logic without question.

              1. I’ve joined you. I understand now.

                1. Do I get a like? Oh, I see the new reason didn’t give us a cutesy like feature. I thought we were going to join the ranks of the elite blog sites, like HuffPo.

          2. You joke, but it’s gotten to the point that it literally is that whatever their guy does, even if absolutely indistinguishable from what the other TEAM’s guy does, they will defend it to the death. Anything at this point.

            And you can point this out to them all day and it doesn’t even make a dent. In fact, it’s pointless to talk to them. They’re mindless programmed drones, and nothing you can say to them will make one iota of difference.

            1. No, no, you need to squint your eyes just right to see the ultimate justice of when Obama does the exact same things as Bush.

            2. Squint them until you can’t actually see anything at all.

              1. Also, rub mud into your ears, and bang yourself in the head with a hammer until you can no longer discern the meaning of clear statements like ‘If you own a business, you didn’t build that.’ It worked for Tony.

            3. What have you done? Thousands of years of building and rebuilding, creating and recreating so you can let it crumble to dust. A million years of sensitive men dying for their dreams… FOR WHAT? So you can swim and dance and play.

              1. From a book? Which one?

                1. The Time Machine

                2. Google is tough, eh Bill?

            4. In some ways Obama has actually taken it up a notch.

              Can you imagine if Bush had executed someone in, say, 2006? The shit storm from the left would have been suffocating. Obama does it and I don’t even need my galoshes.

              1. Apparently, they are still basking in the euphoria of their great 2008 victory when the meanies on the right had been vanquished forever. They seem to be on some sort of really powerful SRI type drug. They appear to be oblivious to the fact that Obama is even doing the same things that Bush did.

                They always ask me, well where were you when Boooshhh did it!!!! And I calmly say, I was right here bitching about Bush just like I do about your dear leader. They don’t seem to accept that, it’s like I am speaking Mandarin to them or something.

                1. Libertarianism means never having to say you’re sorry.

        3. They stand for nothing except the TEAM. Nothing whatsoever.

          Nuh huh,

          The stand in line for free shit too.

          1. Yeah, and they better get it or they will break the windows out of Starbucks and throw pebbles at the authoritahs.

    2. yeah, that graph jumped from 05 to 06 to 07.

      anyway, that’s a shitload of property to liquidate. where are these govt auctions?

      1. I was wondering why I kept seeing this video window. Now I understand that since I run Reasonable, and you have the URL in your handle, Reasonable shows it in-line. The old version didn’t do this IIRC.


        1. Why don’t you give the guy a little time to fix his free software, dude.

          1. Fuck you, and fuck him. I DEMAND IT ALL, AND I DEMAND IT NOW, AND I’M NOT GONNA PAY YOU SHIT FOR IT

          2. He did fix it, asswipe. I was just politely putting that out there as a bug report.

            You continue to be a massive disappointment to me and your mother.

            1. I learned it from watching you!

        2. Weird.

          I’ll get around to it.

          The old version did do that for a while, FWIW. No one noticed because no one had video URLs in their name.

    3. Changing the title after I post?


      1. your point still stands. The actual sky rocketing took place under Bush. Obama is just conserving the sky rocketage.

        1. Yeah, I’m not sure it really matters who started it when the current guy has kept his foot firmly on the gas.

        2. I just don’t want to have the pedant tag unfairly applied to me.

          1. Don’t worry, it won’t be “unfairly” applied.

            1. Oh, thank god!

  3. Even the Sheriff of Nottingham didn’t have as much gall.

  4. When you business model is dependent upon robbing people, you look for innovative ways to steal.

    1. Well, this IS the government…I don’t know if I’d call it innovation per se. Just more of the same, and actually with LESS subterfuge than traditionally employed.

    2. Next up, the government will mandate a tax for healthcare.

  5. All your asset are belong to us!

  6. In civil forfeiture, the action is against the property and thus does not require that the owner of the property be charged with a federal offense. The government must only prove a connection between the property and the crime.

    That’s just pure, fucking evil.

    1. Did this shit exist in the 18th century? If it did, I can’t imagine why it’s not prohibited right next to bills of attainder.

      1. What could possibly go wrong, with our angel-like masters, immune to corruption and temptation?

      2. Of course not. This is pure bullshit generated out of whole cloth for the drug war. I can’t believe it hasn’t had a constitutional challenge; or has it?

        1. I get the feeling that a legal challenge would do only 2 things to civil forfeiture law: jack and shit.

        2. What don’t you understand about the property being “connected” with a crime?

          1. After all, property has no rights, right?

            As JW said: pure, fucking evil.

            1. Now you get it, I’ll nominate you for the next open federal judgeship.

        3. Since when has the Supreme Court upehld due process rights for property?

        4. SCOTUS has upheld the constitutionality of asset forfeiture. Further demonstrating their own worthlessness.

        5. How could be so arrogant to challenge it? This drug dealers are ruining our children! And the pedophiles, my god!!!

      3. Privateering? That’s the best analogy I got.

        Of course then, they at least had the courtesy to pretend it was a war necessity. And they made some good faith attempt to only steal shit from furriners.

  7. Wow, looks like enough people whined the site editors into increasing the font size. Now it just looks all screwy.

    1. It’s so big and black…

      1. Too beaucoup! Too beaucoup!

  8. Alright! My Reasonable works again!

    1. I’ve got a bar of coded running across the bottom of my screen. If this isn’t fixed soon, there will be consequences.

  9. If just one cocky drug dealer loses his Ferrari then it will have been worth all the hotels seized from old couples.

  10. Excellent!

    Font size sanity!

  11. The number between 2007 and 2011 aren’t really “skyrocketing”. They’re kind of on a slight upward trend. The actual “skyrocketing” looks like it took place between ’05 and ’06.

    There isn’t a need for hyperbole when discussing such a horrible policy as asset forfeiture.

  12. Eminent Domain + Civil Foreiture + Three Felonies A Day == All Your Stuff Are Belong To Us

  13. You old farts. The previous fonts were elegant and refined. Now it looks I’m reading the Early Bird specials menu.

    1. Listen, I like feeling like I’m at Mammy’s Pancake House all day.

      1. 7:00 PM Matlock
        8:00 PM Matlock
        9:00 PM Matlock
        10:00 PM Off Air

  14. not surprising to see ANOTHER thing where california “leads” the nation in its suckitude of law enforcement practices…

    although, it would be interesting to see the list ranked per capita.

    one would expect on most stuff for california and new york to be amongst to top states (for : insert X), since they are amongst the most populous.
    but again, when it comes to police/state power california SUCKS

    compare to a state like WA where we have a recognized right to privacy and it’s simply a stark difference

    compare the law enforcement journals (search and seizure case law primarily) between california and WA (WA has the LED which i have linked to).

    in brief, “state agents” have WAY WAY more power in california and people in california have way less protection against search and seizures not to mention they suck on right to carry.

    but hey, the foie gras is safe!

  15. Federal Asset Forfeiture Continues to Skyrocket Under Obama

    How ’bout them Hope ‘n Change?

  16. Weird glitch- I’ll try again…

    Spoiler Alert-

    The great liberty experiment devolves into gangsterism and thuggery. The rats take over the ship.

  17. This is pure bullshit generated out of whole cloth for the drug war. I can’t believe it hasn’t had a constitutional challenge; or has it?

    Scalia sez PLAY ON!

  18. The injustices that bother me most are these relatively isolated cases with often unsympathetic victims concentrated in lower classes. I guarantee you most landlords in slummy neighborhoods know who is and isn’t dealing drugs, but what are they going to do? Call me collectivist, but if I had only a little political capital to spend, it would be on getting rid of the outliers that get massacred rather than the masses who suffer a bit.

    1. in many states, emergency eviction based on reasonable belief of drug dealing by a landlord is quite easy.

      what amazes me is how few landlords AND tenants have any fucking idea what their rights and responsibilities are under the l/t code.

      ime, most have never read it.

      we get a fair # of landlord tenant disputes and when i ask either party “have you read the landlord/tenant code? it’s online, it may answer your question, and generally speaking it’s a matter of civil not criminal law that i cannot enforce”

      people are like “landlord/tenant code? what is that?”

      (rolls eyes)

      i’ve seen landlords literally commit a BURGLARY (on several occasions) because they thought they could just waltz intoa tenants room and “hold” their property until they paid their rent.

      shit like that.

      1. I guess it makes sense that emergency eviction would be a low standard, since landlords ordinarily have to give notice before doing any inspection. I’d be surprised if many landlords used it though, even under the threat of civil forfeiture. The good ones are probably just trying to make a buck, and the bad ones may use this knowledge as leverage. My landlord has dropped pretty clear hints at what we should get rid of come time for city inspections.

        1. the one piece of advice i offer you is READ YOUR LANDLORD TENANT CODE

          information is power.

          if provisions of your lease are contrary to the LTCode, then the latter takes precedence

          iow, a landlord, with very rare exceptions, can’t enforce provisions of a lease that conflict with your rights under the LTCode.

          arm yourself with that information.

  19. Fed LOL of the day:

    Just got off a conference call on new federal regs for non-profit hospitals, full of detail on how we administer our “Financial Assistance Policy”.

    About every third sentence was about whether somebody was “FAP-eligible.”

    I about had to leave the room. And it was work, so I couldn’t exactly share the joke.

    1. FAP-eligible = lonely version of “Would you?”

    2. I feel bad that your colleagues don’t know what fap means. Or am I in a bubble working with all these web geeks?

      1. Maybe they were all hiding the snickering too?

        1. If so, they were hiding it extremely well.

          This was a bunch of accounting and finance types, so I’m pretty sure they weren’t in on the joke.

          I swear, when it comes time to write our policy, I am going to try to work in “FAP Worthy” as a defined term.

    3. do you guys use cerner or epic or neither btw?

      1. McKesson.

        1. oh, not familiar. a good friend of mine does all the training for a big hospital system. they used to use cerner. now, they are using epic (one local hospital told them – use epic or we won’t refer patients to you, and among other things, referrals from them were about 20% of their referrals).

          my doctor uses epic and i like that i can log on and look at my test results, etc. very empowering vs. the old days where you had to “request” it and then wait for the copies and all that shit.

          i realize a lot of shit they put down is not available to me online, but it’s still nice to be able to look and compare my last dozen blood tests, labs, etc. etc. from my home

  20. Anyone else having issue with being logged out of the site often, like every 5 minutes or so???

  21. “FAP-eligible.”

    “I have here in my possession a List of Names….”

  22. being logged out of the site often, like every 5 minutes or so???

    I closed all my tabs and went away for a while, and had to log back in.
    And then the squirrels ate my first comment.

    1. I have had occasional issues with H and R before in this regard, but today it is happening a lot. I type a comment and by the time I hit preview, I am logged out…

  23. Forget about Gould, Rockefeller, JP Morgan. The government has the real robber barons.

  24. i’ve tested in a # of asset forfeiture hearings. and that’s exactly right – HEARINGS. these aren’t trials… there is no right to an attorney, no jury of one’s peers, etc. etc.

    the very idea is suspect, but in some jurisdictions, it’s outright thievery. like most things, it varies state by state

    especially egregious are the “strict liability ” laws where the state needs not prove you knew or should have known X was there, merely that X was there.

    they are slam dunks for prosecutors and when combined with draconian penalties lead inevitably to easy plea bargain “wins”.

    those fabled stories about customs taking a boat for a seed of mj is the perfect example of strict liability nonsense.

    it’s kind of like in states that have strict liability statutory rape. pick up a 15 yr old AT A BAR? iow, have every reason to believe she is of age (assuming that 15 is below age of consent), in a strict liability state , you are FUCKED. literally

    that’s an obscene injustice. strict liability and the war on drugs are two injustices that just … go together, but god knows the war on terror loves it some strict liability too

  25. Why bother getting a conviction and levying a fine, when you can just take the stuff?

  26. The ranking of states by most assets forfeited doesn’t really tell us much besides the fact that those states have big populations. I’d be really interested in $ forfeited per capita to tell us which states actually have the most abusive law enforcement.

    1. jinx!!!!

      (iow your post mirrors almost exactly my earlier post)

      which proves you are wicked smaht.

  27. The national debt is skyrocketing under Obama. The asset forfeiture graph looks more like a propeller plane taking off.

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