Whistleblowers – the future of the CFTC’s Consumer Protection Fund
By Jack Fischer, Baker Tilly
Concerns over the sustainability of Commodities Future Trading Commission’s (“CFTC”) Whistle Blower Program (the “Program”) were temporarily alleviated when President Joe Biden signed a Senate bill to transfer $10 million to the CFTC Consumer Protection Fund (“the Fund”) in July 2021. The highly successful program was created in 2010 as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, which was a direct response to the 2008 financial collapse. As a result, whistleblowers may be eligible for an award when they voluntarily provide the CFTC with original information about violations of the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA) that leads the CFTC to bring a successful enforcement action resulting in monetary sanctions exceeding $1,000,000.
Per the Program’s guidelines, a whistleblower award can range from 10% to 30% of the money collected in the CFTC’s enforcement action or a related action. Since its creation, the Fund has awarded approximately $330 million to over 250 different whistleblowers. The vital tips provided in these cases have resulted in the recovery of over $3 billion related to criminal and fraudulent activity. All whistleblower awards are paid from the Fund as established by Congress and financed entirely through monetary sanctions paid by violators.
In recent years, the thriving program hit a snag when a substantial influx of tips and awards created a major funding crisis. By the original ruling, the Fund was capped at $100 million and could only be replenished when the Fund fell below that amount. The $100 million threshold was deemed sufficient for nearly a decade – but like any successful program or business, it must change with the times to survive.
In 2012, when the Fund first began accepting tips, only 58 individuals filed complaints. This led to the Fund’s first reward of $240,000, which posed no significant threat to the Fund’s liquidity and set a false assumption that all future rewards would be similar in size. In 2020, more than 1,000 whistleblowers filed complaints with the CFTC, and in one instance, it granted almost $200 million to a single whistleblower. Given the funding restrictions, the CFTC will be required to pay the award in at least two separate installments. The astronomical growth since the Fund’s inception, however, did not result in a single dollar increase in the size of the Fund, or any changes in legislation impacting the Program.