At the height of the Civil War, Congress passed, and President Lincoln signed, a law to deter and punish contractors who billed the Union army for worthless goods masquerading as necessities of war. Based on feudal England’s practice of deputizing private citizens to protect the king’s property, the False Claims Act’s (FCA) qui tam provision allows a “relator” to sue on the government’s behalf and share in any recovery. Or, as Senator Jacob M. Howard put it at the time, the FCA “set[s] a rogue to catch a rogue.”

Since the Civil War, of course, the government’s size and reach have steadily increased to Leviathan proportions. FCA fines have grown accordingly—from double the government’s damages plus a $2,000 penalty per false claim in 1863, to treble the government’s damages plus a maximum $21,536 penalty per false claim today. As the potential for bounties beyond the dreams of avarice has risen, so too has the number of rogues—and their lawyers—looking for a windfall.