DATE: November 29, 2023
TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Liz Zelnick, Director of Accountable.US’ Economic Security & Corporate Power Program
SUBJECT: Expect Industry-Funded Hostility at Hearings with Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Chopra
This week, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Rohit Chopra will deliver his semi-annual report before both the House Financial Services and Senate Banking committees where he is expected to detail the agency’s efforts to lower costs for American consumers by combating corporate price-gouging and junk fees — whether it’s barring banks and credit unions from charging fees for basic services, limiting most credit card late fees to $8 down from as much as $41, or removing medical debt from consumer credit reports.
While the Director has faced hostile questioning in the past by committee Republicans cozy with the financial industry, these hearings are expected to be more contentious than usual as the agency faces an existential crisis and some of the most aggressive attacks to date from greedy CEOs and lobbyists representing Wall Street, big banks, predatory lenders, and debt collectors.
Republicans reliant on money from these industries are expected to earn their keep by further escalating their attacks on the agency dedicated to saving consumers money and time.
Committee Republicans smell blood in the water as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a lawsuit brought by the predatory lending industry that seeks to strip the Bureau of its independence that guarantees it cannot be bought and paid for by special interests or have its funding held hostage by political and corporate money corruption in Congress. The lawsuit that could pave the way for the worst rollback of consumer protection in U.S. history is enthusiastically endorsed by members of the Republican House Majority — and by every Republican member of the House Financial Services Committee who have also advanced a stack of bills designed to weaken the bureau.
There is no public support for taking away basic consumer protections and making it harder for regulators to go after bad actors. So why are Republicans lawmakers are so adamant about defunding and defanging the agency that has successfully put $17.5 billion and counting back in Americans’ pockets through its work writing and enforcing rules for financial institutions like banks and lenders that protect consumers from unfair and deceptive practices in mortgages, credit cards, bank accounts, and other financial products and services?
Why do these Republicans parrot blatantly false claims from predatory lenders about the agency’s constitutionality when basic history shows independent funding structures, like those used by the CFPB, have been around since the nation’s founding?
The answer is money. Enough money to convince them to consistently serve the interests of corporations even when it comes at the direct expense of consumers. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Patrick McHenry, a harsh critic of federal consumer protection efforts, has taken over $5 million alone from the broad financial industry over his career. This includes over $700,000 from just three major banks that made over $6.8 billion in overdraft fees in 2019 alone and industry groups who opposed efforts to rein in overdraft practices.
McHenry’s top committee lieutenants Blaine Luetkemeyer and Andy Barr have together taken over $10 million from the financial industry they’re supposed to oversee, yet instead serve their interests. On the Senate side, the industry has another good friend in Republican Senate Banking ranking member Tim Scott who’s raked in $9.6 million from the finance, insurance, and real estate industries while he has defended predatory lending and industry junk fees. In fact, all of these lawmakers have fiercely defended the practice of junk fees that needlessly siphon billions of dollars from the pockets of working families every year.
These Republicans have been paid millions of dollars from the financial industry to deny the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s clear constitutionality. Industry CEOs and lobbyists and the lawmakers in their pocket cannot stand that the bureau is independent because that independence has kept it free from industry influence and allowed it to stand up for consumers not corporations time and time again.
This week, it may sound a lot like financial industry CEOs and lobbyists are the ones asking Director Chopra the questions when Republican committee members take their turn on the microphone. And they might as well be.