Archive for the ‘Financial Reform’ Category

During last week’s Republican debate on FOX Business, an ad paid for by the American Action Network (AAN) depicted Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) workers robotically denying personal loans to needy individuals.

AAN paid $500,000 to run the ad seven times during the debate, attacking the agency and its champions – Senator Elizabeth Warren and CFPB Director Richard Cordray.

The ad’s dismal, Soviet-inspired concept sets the scene for misleading accusations of injustice against consumers. Warren and Cordray are portrayed on red banners as dictators while the assembly line rubber-stamps personal loan denials – a far cry from the work the CFPB actually does, such as providing ways for ripped-off consumers to hold banks accountable and reining in “payday” lenders that prey on military families.

However, beyond its sham portrayal of the bureau’s work, the ad is a symptom of a bigger problem: A concerted push to stop or delay the successful work of the agency that has returned over $11 billion dollars to harmed consumers. The real worry about the ad should be with the huge sums of money being funneled into the larger effort to thwart the agency.

A timely example of these efforts to block the CFPB’s work are right-wing lawmakers’ concurrent attempts to insert riders—or unrelated policy proposals—into the federal spending bills in order to weaken consumer financial protections issued by the CFPB, as well as undermine the structure and set-up of the Bureau.

By attacking the agency created to look out for consumer interests in the financial market, these corporate players are in-effect attacking consumers themselves.

So why is the CFPB under attack?

Follow the money. Two American Action Network board members lobby on behalf of Navient, a student loan provider currently under investigation by the CFPB (and several other regulatory authorities) for allegedly overcharging and mistreating borrowers. And another board member lobbies on behalf of both student loan and payday lending clients, practices also under examination by the CFPB. This lobbying seems to be paying off.

Policy riders that would cripple the CFPB’s ability to do its job are leaching through the appropriations process, piggybacking on budget bills. Here’s what the anti-CFPB and anti-financial reform riders would do:

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At a recent event, Senator Elizabeth Warren described postal banking as a triple win for the government, public and postal service. For the public it could be an essential new route to provide basic banking services to rural areas and inner cities.

One in four households are estimated to be underbanked – with high proportions of those under the age of 25 and in black or Hispanic communities. Basic banking services like ATM access, check-cashing, and small-scale lending could save these underbanked households $2,412 each year.

The underbanked are also most vulnerable to the practices of predatory financial service providers – nearly half of Americans would have to borrow money should they have a financial emergency that cost over $400. That’s the equivalent of an emergency room visit or a car accident. This has led to fringe lenders in the U.S. outnumbering McDonalds and Starbucks.

The poorest American families have been faced with exacerbated charges on their earned income while the majority of bank closures happen in the areas they live, the areas that are the most in need.

Even community banks and (in some cases) credit unions, which once existed to serve the underbanked, can be bogged down with account fees and the cost of staying open that make it impossible for lower income clients to continue banking there.

Postal banking is a rational solution to the many problems faced by the chronically underbanked, according to the book How the Other Half Banks, by Mehrsa Baradaran, who also spoke at the event.

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Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White will face questions from the House financial services committee on Wednesday, November 18, 2015. An Obama appointee, she’s nevertheless drawn sharp criticism from Democrats as well as Republicans. Public Citizen also challenges her stewardship. Here are questions we hope committee members will ask. We also take the liberty of proposing an ideal answer, and then the answer that we expect.

Banker pay: Dangerous pay structures helped cause the Wall Street bubble that burst in 2008. Congress approved a law requiring you to reform those structures and set a deadline: May 2011. When will you propose a good rule?

Ideal answer: There’s no excuse for taking more than five years on this. We’ve completed more complicated rules (including multi-agency rules) in less time. I’ve directed my staff to bring a proposal before commission vote by December.

Expected answer: This is a multi-agency rule that requires a great deal of cooperation. I assure you, we are working diligently. But I can’t give you any date because these are all difficult issues.

Political spending: More than 1.2 million investors have petitioned the SEC to draft rules requiring firms to disclose all their political spending. What is the timeline for moving forward on the rulemaking?

Ideal answer: While this is a political hot potato, shareholders deserve to know where corporations spend their money, especially if it involves public policy which could have a reputational impact on their invested monies.

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On November 12, 1999, 16 years ago today, a longtime banking safety law known as the Glass-Steagall Act was effectively repealed when President Bill Clinton signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. The original Glass-Steagall law was passed in 1933 in response to the Wall Street crash of 1929 which led to the Great Depression. Its purpose was to build a wall between commercial and investment banking in order to prevent banks from using taxpayer-backed deposits to make risky investments. Much of the repeal came from regulatory decisions dating from the 1980s, but the 1999 law completed the task.

In the decades following Glass-Steagall, the nation enjoyed relative financial tranquility. Within a half-decade after the repeal of Glass-Steagall, Wall Street recklessness caused a crash that left a $12+ trillion hole in the economy.

The need to revive the “Safety Glass” separation between commercial and investment banking has been in the news quite a bit recently — for good reason. The nation’s biggest banks are bigger than ever and the risk of a financial meltdown and government bailouts to banks considered to be “too big to fail” is still all too present.

U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) reintroduced their bipartisan “21st Century Glass-Steagall Act” legislation in July and bipartisan companion legislation was introduced in the House as well.

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The New York Times has published a devastating three-part exposé by reporters Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Robert Gebeloff and Michael Corkery showing the gory details of how corporations use the fine print of take-it-or-leave-it terms to deny consumer rights.

These forced arbitration clauses block ripped-off consumers from holding corporations accountable in a court. Instead, consumers are routed into the rigged system of private arbitration, where decisions are in the hands of corporations’ handpicked arbitrators instead of impartial judges. These arbitrators, who depend on the corporations who set these terms for repeat business, have every incentive to rule against consumers. Their rulings are final – they are not required to allow appeals. Appallingly, there is no public record of these decisions, and they do not have follow precedent or the law.

Even worse, forced arbitration clauses buried in the fine print increasingly ban class-action lawsuits. This makes these terms a “get out of jail free card” for corporations with large numbers of customers, who can get away with small-dollar rip-offs. Customers of a company that uses a forced arbitration clause to ban class actions have no means for collective action against unfair charges.

Take action today: Tell Congress to ban forced arbitration.

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