A shadowy right-wing group is attacking the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in an ad airing during Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate. The American Action Network (AAN) would have you believe that the nation’s premier exposer of scams and consumer abuses exists to make your life harder.
The ad portrays the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as a banal hive of drones who slap giant red DENIED stamps on individual people’s applications for loans. Just to make sure nobody misses the Soviet theme, the ad shows giant red-and-gold banners depicting Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and CFPB director Richard Cordray hanging over this army of clerks. “With the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, those who need help the most are denied,” the narrator growls.
This is about as far from what the agency actually does as it’s possible to get without portraying them as Jedi knights. People don’t go to the CFPB when they’re seeking a loan; they go when they’ve been swindled by a lender, debt collector, or other financial company.
Over 725,000 customers have filed complaints with the CFPB over such abuses since the agency opened its doors. Its work responding to consumer complaints has recouped about $11.5 billion for more than 25 million wronged consumers in under five years. CFPB staff created mortgage servicing regulations that make it possible for individual homeowners to sue when they’re wronged without waiting for a government regulator to act. They created new safeguards specifically for mobile home finance, where customers can get bilked by lenders in complicated ways.
The agency’s ability to anonymously analyze vast swathes of data has exposed the exploitative nature of both payday lending and so-called “overdraft protection,” among many other credit products. Its work on the student loan crisis has helped to bring down companies like for-profit Corinthian Colleges and to expose abusive debt collection practices. The agency also finds time to crank out documents designed to help consumers navigate complex financial contracts and process on their own, empowering individuals to better understand and exert their rights.
Smearing the agency that’s racked up all those wins for consumers as a Kafkaesque misery machine may seem unscrupulous. But “unscrupulous” is sort of AAN’s thing.
This is the same group that falsely accused Democrats of wanting to give Viagra to sex offenders in the 2010 election cycle, and attacked one candidate in 2012 for having lived out of state during his time as an astronaut.
The group’s funders are anonymous, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get a feel for who’s behind the deceit here. AAN’s board includes former Sen. George Allen (R-VA), a couple of ex-financiers, a key Watergate-era White House aide, a tobacco heir and veteran astroturfer, and a billionaire Bush/Cheney bundler who thinks talking about inequality is akin to Nazism.
It also includes two men who are registered lobbyists for Navient, the student loan collections company that is currently under CFPB investigation. As The Intercept’s Lee Fang reports, the ad offers no disclosure of AAN board members’ ongoing financial relationships with companies that the agency is investigating.
Congressional Republicans are already hard at work trying to undermine the agency through sneaky legislative tactics. But the CFPB is exceptionally popular, according to polling from July by Lake Research Partners. Fully 75 percent of likely voters say they support the agency — a number that’s held steady for a year, and which includes 61 percent support even among Republican voters.