Column: Consumer agency hated by Trump and GOP lawmakers has the backing of most Americans
The Trump administration and Republican lawmakers have long viewed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as a rogue agency, dedicated solely to preventing decent, hard-working businesses from creating jobs and growing the economy.
It turns out, though, that the CFPB enjoys strong support from at least one group.
Millions of them.
Republican and Democrat.
Americans for Financial Reform and the Center for Responsible Lending will release survey results Tuesday showing that an overwhelming majority of Americans — at least 80% — are concerned about the Trump administration’s recent efforts to curb oversight of banks and payday lenders, and the possible shutdown of a database of consumer complaints.
Similarly high percentages of Americans worry about a reduction in regulatory monitoring of racial discrimination among lenders, increasingly cozy ties between government officials and industry lobbyists, and any moves aimed at easing rules for businesses rather than protecting consumers.
“This survey tells us that people haven’t been swayed by arguments that the CFPB is a job killer,” said Lisa Donner, executive director of Americans for Financial Reform.
“They think financial regulation is important to them, and it needs to be tougher, not weaker,” she told me after providing a sneak peek at the findings. “This means the actions being taken by the administration are completely opposite to the will of the people.”
The telephone survey was conducted in late June and early July among 1,000 likely voters by Lake Research Partners and Chesapeake Beach Consulting. The latter firm frequently represents right-leaning clients.
Significantly, the survey shows that support for the CFPB cuts across party lines, with majorities of Republicans and Democrats saying strong enforcement of financial rules affects them personally.
Asked how important it is to regulate financial services and products, a staggering 91% say it’s important, including 69% who say it’s very important.
That’s a sentiment shared by 85% of Republicans and 96% of Democrats.
“If I were a member of Congress or a member of this administration, I’d be saying, ‘Wait a minute, I think we need to take another look at this. Clearly we’re not in step with the American public,’” said Bob Carpenter, head of Chesapeake Beach Consulting.
He noted that most Democrats and half of Republicans surveyed reject the conservative line that the CFPB is bad for consumers and bad for businesses.
Overall, nearly two-thirds of voters say they view the bureau’s work much as they view efforts of other government agencies tasked with safeguarding citizens, such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
“Rank-and-file voters are saying financial reforms make sense and they support them,” Carpenter said.
Republican politicians, in turn, are covering their ears and saying “la-la-la-la-la.”
For the last eight months, the CFPB has been run by President Trump’s White House budget chief, Mick Mulvaney, who has committed himself to weakening the agency and introducing a more pro-business sensibility.
He recently shut down the bureau’s 25-member Consumer Advisory Board, which included consumer advocates, academics and industry execs. Their job was to provide informed input on the bureau’s policies.
Mulvaney also has expressed interest in pulling the plug on the CFPB’s complaint database, which he has called “a Yelp for financial services sponsored by the federal government.” The database contains more than a million searchable listings about banks, lenders and other firms.
“In what world does it make sense to give consumers less information about a product or service they may purchase?” California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra told me.
That would be a world where Republican politicians are happy to accommodate corporate backers that don’t want reports of their misdeeds to be so readily available.
Trump has nominated Kathy Kraninger, one of Mulvaney’s budget deputies, to replace him on a full-time basis as the nation’s top consumer watchdog.
Except for her total lack of experience as a consumer advocate, as a regulator, in financial services and running a government agency, she’s a fine pick.
The banking industry says it looks forward to working with her. A vote by the Senate Banking Committee on Kraninger’s appointment is scheduled for Thursday.
For all the moaning from conservatives and industry bigwigs about the CFPB representing government-run-amok, the reality is that the bureau has an indisputable track record of success.
Along with crackdowns on unscrupulous financial companies — hi, Wells Fargo! — the CFPB says it has returned more than $12 billion in misbegotten cash to consumers.
It has made the lending process more transparent, sought greater accountability for payday lenders and imposed hundreds of millions of dollars in fines for unethical or illegal business practices.
The survey found that when you clearly explain the bureau’s mission of consumer protection to voters, nearly three-quarters say this is a good thing. That includes 78% of Democrats and 64% of Republicans.
Equally impressive, 71% of voters favor more, not less, regulation of financial firms — a reflection of the fact that, unlike Republican politicians, most Americans clearly remember the turmoil of the mortgage meltdown and subsequent recession.
I asked the CFPB for comment. No one responded.
Donner at Americans for Financial Reform said conservative politicians are simply ignoring what most people say they prefer when it comes to financial regulation.
“It’s incredibly frustrating,” she said. “We know how people feel, but policies are being put in place that are the opposite.”
If Kraninger is approved by the Republican-controlled Senate, which is likely, the White House says she’ll “bring a fresh perspective” to running the CFPB.
If we define “fresh” as being not what most Americans want.
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