The Siemens Precedent: Jacking Up Penalties To Fund The Government, A Billion Fine For Madoff

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Siemens (SI) will pay the US an $800 million fine to settle a bribery case. That may not seem like a lot side-by-side with the Paulson plan, but if the federal government can start increasing its fines for bad behavior, it could go a long way to balancing the national budget.

Bernard Madoff will probably get off with a fine of $10 million or $20 million. Granted, he will have to spend years in prison, but he probably has a lot more money than that, the fine should be based on his ability to pay. That could move the number up into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The federal government says that Whole Foods (WFTC) violated fair trade practices when it bought a smaller competitor, Wild Oat. The fine for doing that should be $100 million. Whole Foods just raised a bunch of money.

The international trade court recently cracked down on Qualcomm (QCOM) for patent and competition violations. Qualcomm has access to more than $1 billion. Anything short of $500 million would be too small a fine.

The federal government is in trouble now. It needs what capital it can get. It has always been too light on fines. It would rather put people in jail.

Using the Siemens settlement as a guide, Madoff should pay $1 billion and go free. It would be better for the country.

Douglas A. McIntyre