by Jeff Sovern
More and more, the CFPB's acting director, Mick Mulvaney, has made clear that he is not interested in hearing from consumers or their advocates. As Allison reported earlier today, the CFPB has kicked off all the members of its advisory committees, which included industry folks as well as consumer advocates and professors. The Bureau used to hold frequent field hearings during which it arranged for industry officials, consumer advocates, and academics to speak, and members of the public were also invited to weigh in. Not under Mr. Mulvaney. As we reported in December, the Bureau cancelled a survey to learn more about how consumers understand debt collection notices. Mr. Mulvaney has also raised the possibility of concealing complaints in the complaint database from the public, which would deprive consumers of a way to express themselves publicly as well as reducing the incentive to complain to the Bureau, because financial institutions would have less incentive to heed complaints to the Bureau (after all, it's not as if the Bureau is bringing cases based on those complaints any more). Perhaps all this is because consumers haven't given Mr. Mulvaney campaign contributions, and he prefers to hear from those who have. It is hard to protect consumers if you cut yourself off from them, but then, Mr. Mulvaney doesn't seem inclined to protect consumers. Rather, he seems to want to be protected from them.
To make matters even worse, Mr. Mulvaney's spokesperson has taken an unfortunate shot at the people who volunteered to serve on the Consumer Advisory Board without pay to advise the Bureau. According to Kate Berry in the American Banker:
"The outspoken members of the Consumer Advisory Board seem more concerned about protecting their taxpayer funded junkets to Washington, DC and being wined and dined by the Bureau than protecting consumers," [CFPB spokesman John] Czwartacki said in an emailed statement.
I wonder if anyone who see that comment believes it or if Mr. Czwartacki is just damaging his own credibility.
It's a shame that the media isn't reporting more about what's going on at the Bureau, because consumers have lost a key protector.
UPDATE: The CFPB held a town hall meeting on fighting elder financial exploitation in Topeka, Kan on June 8. It's not described as a field hearing, but perhaps it offers some of the same features. I will listen to the recording with interest when it becomes available.