Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) has a message for the federal consumer watchdog workers fighting to protect your wallet from white-collar predators: Don’t let the bastards grind you down.
In an open letter, the prominent progressive darling and long-time leader of the House Financial Services Committee’s Democrats sought to encourage Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) employees who’ve seen stark changes under the new management of Republican appointees who would rather their agency not exist.
The morale-boosting missive also served as a reminder to employees that a whistleblower portal can protect them from recriminations should they feel the need to report malign conduct by President Donald Trump’s administration.
“Let me assure you that actions to weaken the Consumer Bureau from within as Director Mulvaney attempted to do will not go unchecked or unnoticed,” Waters wrote to the staffers. After the Democrats took back the House, Waters became chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee.
“If, in the course of your work, you are a witness to waste, fraud, abuse or gross mismanagement, please do not hesitate to alert me and my staff,” she wrote.
The letter also directed concerned staffers to a confidential whistleblower reporting tool housed at the Financial Services Committee website.
“Your work is a vital public service. Take heart in the knowledge that millions of Americans have benefitted from your efforts, and that the Consumer Bureau has many friends and allies in Congress who believe in your efforts and will stand up for you and the Consumer Bureau,” Waters wrote.
The letter keeps a light on for analysts, lawyers, and bureaucrats at the young agency, after public attention drifted away from the Trump team’s sabotage efforts there with the successful appointment of a permanent leader.
Prior to Director Kathy Kraninger’s confirmation in the lame-duck session between November’s midterms and Waters’ formal move from ranking member to chairwoman, CFPB had been temporarily run by White House Chief of Staff and Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney.
Mulvaney had spent much of his earlier congressional career pursuing the demolition of the independent watchdog and its cutting-edge policy work. His failures then preserved the autonomy in funding and management that key CFPB architects argued for in 2010; His conduct in the brief time he headed the agency illustrated those architects were correct about the need for such safeguards against sabotage.
Mulvaney is enough of a political celebrity that his presence drew mainline Washington reporters to pay greater attention to CFPB’s work and struggles than they might have otherwise.
Now that he’s stepped away from the group — after undermining its work on payday lending and other initiatives led by its former director Richard Cordray — the klieg lights are off. The resulting shadows are a boon to Kraninger, who consumer watchdog groups blast as an inexperienced industry shill who would pursue the same consumer-harming course Mulvaney set.
“I am writing to reassure you of the importance and value of your work, and to let you know, in no uncertain terms, that the anti-consumer actions mandated by Trump appointees will not be tolerated,” Waters wrote. “I will work hard to ensure that you will once again be fully empowered to perform your duties on behalf of America’s consumers.”
CFPB staff have recouped more than $10 billion for harmed consumers in less than a decade of existence. It has conducted pioneering quantitative research on various predatory financial practices including the misleadingly-titled “overdraft protection” system that helps trap low-wage workers in cycles of debt instead of facilitating their upward economic mobility.
The 2016 election gave the financial industry its first clean shot at undermining the quietly effective agency created in the wake of the Wall Street crisis and subsequent widespread foreclosure fraud that set working families’ economic security back by generations.
The agency’s conservative critics had previously thrown an increasingly wild-eyed set of attacks at the wall — from silly red-scare ads on television to bizarre Nazi comparisons from sitting members of Congress — without ever landing a clean shot against one of the few federal agencies that enjoys a sterling reputation with voters of all parties.
But after failing to foment a PR insurrection against the agency, Trump’s election allowed people like Mulvaney and Kraninger to circumvent the inconvenient popularity and structural independence of the agency. They had control of the government, and were quick to use it to clip the agency’s wings.
The arm-wrestling over whether or not powerful financial companies should be free to treat paycheck-to-paycheck families as a strip-mine for profits won’t stop anytime soon. It may not make it into headlines very often. But powerful eyes will be watching it — and not just from Wall Street’s side of the war.