OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today announced that the consumer protection and other affirmative litigation divisions of the Attorney General’s Office have recovered more than $650 million for Washingtonians and state and tribal governments since January 2013. This represents a return on investment of $35 for every $1 the state has spent on funding for this work.
“My team does exceptional work protecting Washingtonians — while simultaneously generating millions of dollars for the state general fund,” Ferguson said. “That’s a rarity for any government agency. I’m proud of the value we provide for taxpayers.”
Since 2013, the Legislature has provided a total of $18.7 million in funding for consumer protection work. This is the only funding the Legislature provided since 2013 that went to the attorney general’s affirmative litigation work. “Affirmative litigation” describes the Attorney General’s legal divisions that bring cases on behalf of the people of the State of Washington using its authority to protect the people, rather than on behalf of another state agency. These include the Consumer Protection Division, Antitrust Division, Civil Rights Division, Environmental Protection Division, and Complex Litigation Division. The Attorney General’s affirmative litigation divisions constitute approximately one-sixth of the office.
With that funding, the Attorney General’s Office has won:
- $342.65 million in relief for consumers, such as debt relief and loan modifications from litigation and money back to consumers through the office’s informal complaint resolution process
- $170.45 million in consumer restitution — money that goes back to Washingtonians directly
- $107.8 million in recoveries to the state, either to the general fund or state agencies
- $21.6 million in recoveries to tribal governments or non-profits
In total, for every dollar the state Legislature invested in the Attorney General’s affirmative work on behalf of the people, the Attorney General’s Office recovered $18.32 in consumer relief, $9.11 in direct consumer restitution, $5.76 back to state government, and $1.05 to non-profits and tribal governments.
In addition, the Legislature took back another $10 million to fund other areas of the state budget. In all, the Attorney General’s Office has recovered $652.5 million for the state as a result of its affirmative litigation since 2013. This does not include recoveries made by divisions representing client agencies.
Attorney General’s Office is taking more cases to trial
In the 17 years prior to 2013, the office took a single case to a trial verdict. The office generally did not have the resources to take large cases to trial. Since 2013, the office has taken three consumer protection cases to trial — winning each one.
Those trials are 5-Hour Energy, Comcast and Value Village.
A King County Superior Court judge ordered Living Essentials, the makers of 5-Hour Energy, to pay nearly $4.3 million in penalties, attorneys’ fees and costs for multiple violations of the state Consumer Protection Act, including multiple deceptive claims.
In the case against Comcast, the court ruled the company violated the state Consumer Protection Act nearly half a million times when it charged tens of thousands of Washingtonians for its Service Protection Plan without their consent. The judge ordered Comcast to pay nearly $9.1 million in penalties, in addition to providing restitution to tens of thousands of Washington Service Protection Plan customers.
Following the trial in the Value Village case, the judge found the billion-dollar, for-profit business misled consumers into thinking that it was a charity or nonprofit, and that their purchases benefit charities. In fact, no portion of any purchases in any store owned by Value Village’s parent company, TVI Inc., has ever benefitted charities. The penalties in that case have not yet been determined.
Reinvesting to protect Washingtonians
The Attorney General’s affirmative litigation divisions protect the public and ensure that the costs of litigation necessary to enforce consumer protection, antitrust and anti-discrimination laws are borne by the violators. These divisions are revenue-generating for the state, meaning they return more money to the state than they receive in the form of appropriations.
Despite declining financial support from the Legislature, the Consumer Protection Division has grown. In addition, the office created the Wing Luke Civil Rights Division, the Environmental Protection Division and the Complex Litigation Division — all doing work on behalf of Washingtonians. Before Attorney General Ferguson created the Wing Luke Civil Rights Division in 2015, the Attorney General’s Office had no staff dedicated to civil rights enforcement. Before the creation of the Environmental Protection Division, the office had no staff dedicated to environmental enforcement on behalf of the people rather than a client agency.
In 2017, the Tri-City Herald editorialized: “[Attorney General Ferguson has] done something we don’t often see in government: He’s running his office like a business. …The Attorney General’s Office is able to keep money earned in a settlement. So rather than just keeping the staff at the status quo and covering costs, Ferguson has added employees as well. More attorneys mean more bad actors can be brought to justice. And it’s not costing the state a dime. The office is earning the money it needs to operate and expand on its own. And then giving the surplus to the state.”
Since January 2013, the Attorney General’s Office has expanded the Consumer Protection Division from 11 attorneys and 18 investigators and professional staff to 31 attorneys and 43 investigators and professional staff today.