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For Trump's man at consumer agency, emphasis is on ditching rules, not enforcing them

For Trump's man at consumer agency, emphasis is on ditching rules, not enforcing them
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, who's now also serving as interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has made a sly but telling change to the agency. (Getty Images)

If you’ve been wondering how the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will change now that President Trump has installed as interim director a man who has called the agency a “sick, sad joke,” wonder no more.

Mick Mulvaney, who also continues to serve as White House budget director, said a few weeks ago he’d halt CFPB business for 30 days while getting his bearings.

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But that hasn’t stopped him from quietly making a change to the wording that appears at the bottom of bureau press releases and announcements — a change that reveals the scope of the decidedly more business-friendly agency Mulvaney envisions.

First, here’s what used to appear on all CFPB press releases, before Mulvaney showed up:

“The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a 21st century agency that helps consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives.”

Note the emphasis on enforcing rules and empowering consumers. Is it any wonder the banking industry has been at war with the bureau since its establishment in 2011?

Here’s what you’ll now find:

“The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a 21st century agency that helps consumer finance markets work by regularly identifying and addressing outdated, unnecessary or unduly burdensome regulations, by making rules more effective, by consistently enforcing federal consumer financial law and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives.”

The emphasis clearly has shifted to “identifying and addressing outdated, unnecessary or unduly burdensome regulations” before any consideration of enforcement or consumer empowerment.

In other words, this is an agency more interested in getting rid of rules than in making sure rules are followed.

Oh, and check out the conspicuous dropping of the word “fairly” in the new language. No longer are regulations being “fairly enforced.”

Because the rules that banks and credit card companies had to follow were unfair to begin with? Because consumers shouldn’t expect fairness when dealing with financial firms?

So many questions.

I reached out to John Czwartacki, Mulvaney’s communications director at the White House budget office who’s now also handling communications for the CFPB. He didn’t get back to me.

Czwartacki is one of a handful of Trump loyalists installed by Mulvaney at the bureau. Others reportedly include Mulvaney’s chief of staff at the budget office, Emma Doyle, and his special assistant, James Galkowski.

Mulvaney set up shop in the CFPB about a month ago after the former director, Richard Cordray, stepped down.

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“The President looks forward to seeing Director Mulvaney take a common-sense approach to leading the CFPB’s dedicated staff, an approach that will empower consumers to make their own financial decisions and facilitate investment in our communities,” the White House said in a statement after the Nov. 24 appointment.

Mulvaney is being challenged for the top spot by Cordray’s former deputy, Leandra English, who was tapped by Cordray to serve as interim director until Trump could name a full-time replacement.

Her lawyers argued in court Friday that Mulvaney should step aside. “You cannot unscramble the egg of having the wrong person running the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,” said Deepak Gupta, an attorney for English.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly said he’d rule later on the matter.

Consumer advocates say Mulvaney’s marching orders from Trump are clear: Remake the CFPB as a federal agency that’s a consumer watchdog in name only.

“This bodes really poorly, both for consumer financial protection and independent financial regulation,” said Aaron Klein, policy director for the Brookings Institution’s Center on Regulation and Markets.

As I previously reported, the closest Mulvaney has come in his professional life to anything involving consumer affairs was owning and operating a Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina restaurant — strip-mall Mexican food.

The chain launched in Charlotte, N.C., in 2000 and now operates in 18 mostly southeastern states. Mulvaney planned to open a half-dozen other franchised outlets in and around Charlotte, but then his state and federal political career got in the way.

His wording change at the CFPB shows he still knows how to cook up surprises.

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