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Trump's election does not bode well for the CFPB

By: MICHELLE SINGLETARY
November 20, 2016
0

President-elect Donald Trump campaigned as a champion of the financially stressed middle class. To see how true he is to his word, watch how he handles the direction of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The agency was created as part of Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation of 2010, which was passed in response to the unscrupulous behavior of many companies on Wall Street.

Will the Trump administration replace the CFPB's current director, Richard Cordray - who has been aggressively going after businesses that take advantage of consumers - with someone who is cozy with corporate America? Cordray's term isn't up until 2018, but a court has ruled that he can be removed at will by the president.

The CFPB has been under attack mostly by Republicans who have argued that the financial services industry is already heavily regulated. Yet some of those same companies caused a housing and financial crisis that harmed millions of consumers.

We don't even have to go back as far as the Great Recession to see that financial companies need more oversight. Two months ago, the CFPB fined Wells Fargo $100 million for opening hundreds of thousands of unauthorized bank and credit card accounts.

The watchdog agency has already forced corporations to return more than $11.7 billion to consumers. To that point, Wells Fargo has to pay full restitution to all its victims.

Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit opened a door to weaken the CFPB by ruling that its structure is unconstitutional.

The case was brought before the court by PHH, a mortgage lender that had been fined $109 million after the agency concluded that it illegally referred consumers to mortgage insurers in exchange for kickbacks.

In addition to wanting its fine vacated, PHH sought to disband the CFPB. The company was successful regarding the fine, but thankfully the court didn't destroy the agency. It did, however, turn the CFPB into a political pawn - which is something that Dodd-Frank had strived to avoid.

Under the ruling, the director of the CFPB can be removed by the president at his discretion. Under Dodd-Frank, the director could only be removed for "cause."

One of the major criticisms of the CFPB is that it is an unaccountable bureaucracy because its funding comes from the Federal Reserve and not Congress. But that's a good thing.

In a recent blog post, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., put Trump on notice.

"Americans want to hold the big banks accountable," she wrote. "That will not happen if we gut Dodd-Frank and fire the cops responsible for watching over those banks."

Trump hasn't provided specifics on any meaningful policies that would protect consumers. And it's clear why: He's aggressively pro-business, a stance that far too often is at odds with consumer protection.

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Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Email michelle.singletary@washpost.com.

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