Groups fear weakening of consumer protection

SAM OWENS | Gazette-Mail
Sam Hickman (right to left), Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of Social Workers, addresses members of the media as Alexandra Gallo, Development Director at WV Citizen Action Group, and Woody Little, Campaign Organizer with U.S. PIRG, stand with him during a press conference launching the “West Virginia Campaign to Defend the CFPB” on the steps of the WV Capitol Building in Charleston, W.Va., on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016. According to a press release from Little, the campaign is calling on “Senator Joe Manchin, Senator Shelley Moore Capito and Congressman Alex Mooney to stand with West Virginia consumers, not donors on Wall Street.”
SAM OWENS | Gazette-Mail
Woody Little, Campaign Organizer with U.S. PIRG, addresses members of the media during a press conference launching the “West Virginia Campaign to Defend the CFPB” on the steps of the WV Capitol Building in Charleston, W.Va., on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016. According to a press release from Little, the campaign is calling on “Senator Joe Manchin, Senator Shelley Moore Capito and Congressman Alex Mooney to stand with West Virginia consumers, not donors on Wall Street.”

Representatives of U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, and the state chapter of the National Association of Social Workers called on the state’s Congressional delegation Wednesday to stand up to attempts to weaken the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

“We’re calling on Sen. [Shelly Moore] Capito, Sen. [Joe] Manchin, and Congressman [Alex] Mooney to stand with West Virginia consumers, not Wall Street banks,” Alexandra Gallo, development director for WV-CAG, said during a press conference on the state Capitol steps.

Created by Congress in response to the financial downturn and great recession of the late 2000s, the CFPB is tasked with promoting fairness and transparency for mortgages, credit cards, and other consumer financial activities.

“It’s protecting seniors, it’s protecting students, veterans and the rest of us as well,” said Woody Little, campaign organizer for U.S. PIRG.

In its brief history, Little noted, CFPB has returned nearly $12 billion to consumers after holding companies accountable for illegal transactions, including a recent $100 million penalty and restitution against Wells Fargo for creating fraudulent consumer accounts.

The CFPB website has also processed more than 1 million consumer complaints, including 1,725 from West Virginia, he said.

He called the CFPB a “poster child for a government agency that actually works.”

Little said he believes the CFPB is under attack from Wall Street banks, financial institutions and payday lenders that have combined to spend more than $1 billion in recent election cycles, including $1.4 million to Sen. Capito, R-W.Va., in 2014, and $879,000 to Sen. Manchin, D-W.Va., in 2012.

He said those interests are pushing legislation to weaken CFPB by changing its administration from a director to a five-member commission — “Confirming commissioners could be an extremely long, drawn-out process possibly leaving the commission unable to function” — and by changing its funding from the Federal Reserve to Congressional appropriation — “That means Congress could really just starve it of the funding it needs.”

Sam Hickman, executive director of the West Virginia chapter of the NASW, said the CFPB has helped many families struggle back from the “bad old days” of the great recession, and he encouraged West Virginians to send a message to their representatives in Congress.

“Tell them the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is one federal agency that does what it’s supposed to do, to protect families and consumers,” he said.

Little said president-elect Donald Trump has not taken a position on CFPB specifically.

“We’re calling on President Trump as well to stand with consumers who are hurting,” he said.

Asked for comment, Amy Graham, deputy communications director for Capito, said, “Sen. Capito supports CFPB reforms, like an independent inspector general, replacing the single director with a bipartisan commission, and making CFPB subject to the annual congressional appropriations process. These reforms would protect both consumers and job creators and would address the constitutional flaws in the CFPB’s current structure.”

Sen. Manchin’s press office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazettemail.com, 304 348-1220, or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.

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