With all of these ups and downs, it would be great for a reporter to dig up the court records behind those Web search results and give us a Trump scorecard. Is he more often found to be an unfairly accused deep pocket, or is there a string of settlements and verdicts that suggest that Schneiderman may be going after a recidivist con man? Either way, a good story.

3. Federal fines: Where does the money go?

The Financial Times reported last week that the US Federal Housing Finance Agency is demanding that JPMorgan pay a fine of $6 billion “to settle allegations it mis-sold securities to government-backed mortgage companies.” Even in Washington that’s a lot of money — about four times the SEC’s budget and about 75 percent of the FBI budget. In fact, with other fines looming, JPMorgan could end up coming close to funding the entire FBI this year or covering two years of the Federal Reserve’s net operating expenses.

The FT report reminds me of a story I think about whenever I read about the millions or even billions in fines lately dropping into the government’s coffers. A few other examples: the SEC is said to be seeking $600 for JPMorgan’s conduct in the London Whale trading fiasco; UBS recently agreed to pay the Federal Housing Finance Agency $885 million; drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline agreed to pay $3 billion last year for various marketing misdeeds; and BP received a record $4 billion criminal penalty apart from its far larger settlement of claims related to the damage it caused in the Gulf.

So where does all that newfound money go? What’s the total for the current year? How much has it been increasing? How much, if anything, did the Office of Management and Budget anticipate this year? Assuming there’s a multi-billion-dollar surplus, which lucky government agencies get it? I bet there’s a lot of Capitol Hill and bureaucratic wrangling about all that.

 

Steven Brill , the author of Class Warfare: Inside the Fight To Fix America’s Schools, has written for magazines including New York, The New Yorker, Time, Harper's, and The New York Times Magazine. He founded and ran Court TV, The American Lawyer magazine, ten regional legal newspapers, and Brill's Content magazine. He also teaches journalism at Yale, where he founded the Yale Journalism Initiative.