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Appropriations and Accounting of Public Money

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Clause 7. No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.

Appropriations

This clause is a limitation upon the power of the Executive Department and does not restrict Congress in appropriating moneys in the Treasury.1883 That body may recognize and pay a claim of an equitable, moral, or honorary nature. When it directs a specific sum to be paid to a certain person, neither the Secretary of the Treasury nor any court has discretion to determine whether the person is entitled to receive it.1884 In making appropriations to pay claims arising out of the Civil War, Congress could, the Court held, lawfully provide that certain persons, i.e., those who had aided the Rebellion, should not be paid out of the funds made available by the general appropriation, but that such persons should seek relief from Congress.1885 The Court has also recognized that Congress has a wide discretion with regard to the extent to which it shall prescribe details of expenditures for which it appropriates funds and has approved the frequent practice of making general appropriations of large amounts to be allotted and expended as directed by designated government agencies. Citing as an example the act of June 17, 1902,1886 where all moneys received from the sale and disposal of public lands in a large number of States and territories were set aside as a special fund to be expended under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior upon such projects as he determined to be practicable and advisable for the reclamation of arid and semi-arid lands within those States and territories, the Court declared: “The constitutionality of this delegation of authority has never been seriously questioned.”1887

Payment of Claims

No officer of the Federal Government is authorized to pay a debt due from the United States, whether reduced to judgment or not, without an appropriation for that purpose.1888 Nor may a government employee, by erroneous advice to a claimant, bind the United States through equitable estoppel principles to pay a claim for which an appropriation has not been made.1889

1883 Cincinnati Soap Co. v. United States, 301 U.S. 308, 321 (1937); Knote v. United States, 95 U.S. 149, 154 (1877).

1884 United States v. Price, 116 U.S. 43 (1885); United States v. Realty Company, 163 U.S. 427, 439 (1896); Allen v. Smith, 173 U.S. 389, 393 (1899).

1885 Hart v. United States, 118 U.S. 62, 67 (1886).

1886 32 Stat. 388 (1902).

1887 Cincinnati Soap Co. v. United States, 301 U.S. 308, 322 (1937).

1888 Reeside v. Walker, 52 U.S. (11 How.) 272 (1851).

After the Civil War, a number of controversies arose out of attempts by Congress to restrict the payment of the claims of persons who had aided the Rebellion but had thereafter received a pardon from the President. The Supreme Court held that Congress could not prescribe the evidentiary effect of a pardon in a proceeding in the Court of Claims for property confiscated during the Civil War,1890 but that where the confiscated property had been sold and the proceeds paid into the Treasury, a pardon did not of its own force authorize the restoration of such proceeds.1891 It was within the competence of Congress to declare that the amount due to persons thus pardoned should not be paid out of the Treasury and that no general appropriation should extend to their claims.1892

1889 OPM v. Richmond, 496 U.S. 414 (1990).

1890 United States v. Klein, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 128 (1872).

1891 Knote v. United States, 95 U.S. 149, 154 (1877); Austin v. United States, 155 U.S. 417, 427 (1894).

1892 Hart v. United States, 118 U.S. 62, 67 (1886).

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Last modified: October 23, 2012