By Nicole Arbabzadeh
There are matters that complement the core ideology of all political parties so well that lawmakers across the political spectrum should be working hand-in-hand to achieve the policies. The Arbitration Fairness Act and the Court Legal Access and Student Support (CLASS) Act, which would restore public’s rights to hold wrongdoing corporations accountable in court, are examples of exactly the kind of legislation that should transcend the partisan divide. And yet, partisanship has been a continuous roadblock to their implementation.
So let’s start by reviewing forced arbitration clauses and their devastating consequences for the constituents of all party affiliations. If you’re asking yourself, “What’s forced arbitration?” you’re certainly not alone. According to a recent study conducted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), three-quarters of respondents who understood the meaning of forced arbitration did not know whether their credit card contract contained a forced arbitration clause and a mere 7 percent of respondents whose credit card agreements did contain forced arbitration clauses correctly understood that they could not sue in court. These are startling findings considering that the CFPB’s study also found that the vast majority of prepaid card companies, private student loan lenders, and cell phone providers, and the list goes on, include a forced arbitration clause in their terms. These clauses block consumers’ access to public court and force harmed consumers into inherently biased and secretive arbitration proceedings as a condition for obtaining services.
And financial services consumers aren’t the only targeted group – most ordinary Americans are affected by arbitration clauses, as they are often forced upon employees, small businesses, nursing home residents, and college students, to name just a few.
Now, you may be asking, can arbitration clauses really be that bad? Well, forced arbitration:
1. Robs Ordinary Americans of their Hard-Earned Cash
On August 5, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted 3-2 in favor of a final rule requiring public companies to disclose CEO pay as a multiple of the median-paid employee. The rule was mandated by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, but languished at the commission for five years.
Commissioner Michael Piwowar voted against adoption of the final rule. He said “ideologues” and “bullies” pressed the SEC to carry out this mandate.
Public Citizen members and supporters appealed to the SEC to adopt this rule, which was mandated in 2010. (Yes, laws from Congress often require agencies to translate them for industry before they become enforced, but the time lag on this rule was ridiculous.) To achieve the success of the SEC following-through with a congressional mandate, Public Citizen worked in concert with the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the Institute for Policy Studies, As You Sow, the Teamsters and other members allied with Americans for Financial Reform. We count, apparently, among the “bullies” that Commissioner Piwowar complained about. Our chief weapon — the written and spoken word (with an occasional Facebook graphic).
The rule itself is intended to confront economic bullying, namely, the diversion and concentration of corporate income into the bank accounts of senior managers. The SEC’s final rule final rule harnesses shareholder pecuniary interests to help arrest the runaway CEO pay that’s part of yawning income inequality in America. The SEC’s important action drew front page media attention in the Washington Post, stories in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, CBS, Fox, etc.
With the new SEC rule in place, investors can better determine if CEO at company X is overpaid compared to the CEO at peer company Y.
By Luana Wang
Last year the IRS announced its intent to make new rules governing nonprofit political activity. These rules have been much anticipated and welcomed by many, though they will not be in place for 2016.
Some might say that pushing the new rules until after the 2016 election is a sign of weakness from the IRS, but let’s put that into perspective.
We’ve known for months and months that the new rules would not apply to the 2016 elections. Commissioner John Koskinen stated that fact bluntly in a hearing, and really, the pace of the rulemaking process would allow anyone to that infer logically. And though significant threats and criticisms have attempted to intimidate the IRS into withdrawing these rules altogether, the IRS has continued to work on these important regulations.
Some examples of what they have dealt with:
- The Lois Lerner controversy has shockingly been dragging on for more than two years now (more than fifteen dog years!). More than $20 million went into the IRS Inspector General’s latest investigation into Republican allegations of intentional destruction of evidence by the IRS, which ultimately found that such allegations were unsubstantiated.
Bankers crashed the economy six years ago. Congress approved reform exactly five years ago to deal with the fallout. Yet the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and our other regulatory watchdogs have yet to erect many of the guard rails needed to prevent another calamity.
Title 9 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform Act is focused on reigning in out of control Wall Street executive pay practices — those misplaced incentives that pushed bankers pursuing larger bonuses and rewards to take some of the riskiest gambles in the lead up to the crash. This reform made the SEC (and other agencies) responsible for creating a host of important corporate governance rulemakings — including disclosure requirements, clawbacks, changing the structure of bonus pay completely and correcting the system that incentivizes systemically risky behaviors with dangerous market consequences.
Unfortunately, we have seen stark delays in the bulk of these rulemakings, including some that seem to most to be outrageously simple. Chief among these is the long-delayed executive-compensation rule requiring that companies disclose the pay gap between chief executives and their employees. The agency proposed the rule in 2013 but has yet to complete it.
By Andrew Gibson
This Saturday, our nation celebrates the 239th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. This day should be used to reflect on the ideals and principles upon which this country was founded so as to remind us of the work still to be done in order to achieve goals enshrined in that all-important document.
The Declaration of Independence affirms America’s self-governance. It states that “governments […] derive[e] their just powers from the consent of the governed,” and that all are treated equal under the law. As Public Citizen strives to ensure that all citizens are represented in the halls of power, our members and supporters should keep the founders’ philosophy in mind as we celebrate America’s birthday with our family and friends.