Richard Cordray had just announced he is stepping down as the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau when the special interests that prey on American consumers came running.
Now is the time to restructure the bureau, the president and CEO of the ironically named Consumer Bankers Association said in a press release issued minutes after Cordray's announcement. Republicans who have wallowed in lavish campaign contributions from big banks and other Wall Street financiers did likewise.
Of course, they would. Created as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reforms in the wake of the Great Recession, the 6-year-old CFPB has been an unmitigated success in helping level the playing field between financial predators and mostly defenseless consumers.
And the financiers, from the big banks to the payday loan industry and all the other money manipulators in between, don't like it. Naturally, Donald Trump, that self-proclaimed friend of the working class, sees the CFPB as another of those unnecessary government regulators that hamstring the "free market." He'd rather return to the days when consumers were hit with outrageous fees on their credit cards and bank accounts and the financiers were never held to account.
Since its launch in July 2011, the CFPB has recovered $12 billion from misbehaving financial institutions for 29 million consumers. It was instrumental in uncovering Wells Fargo Bank's practice of opening accounts for unsuspecting customers. It has blocked debt collector attorneys from suing consumers based on false information. It has exposed systemic problems with credit reports and forced the firms to correct errors. It has required credit card companies to refund illegal fees.
The bureau has filed charges against companies that targeted senior citizens by misrepresenting interest rates on advance loans on their pensions, helping at least 600 seniors deal with collection problems every year.
Most recently, it filed complaints against two student loan collectors for using illegal methods. The collectors — one of which has filed 38,000 suits in three years, many of them erroneous on their face — agreed to settle the CFPB's charges by paying more than $21 million in penalties and refunds.
Yet the financial industry, backed by its toadies in Congress, think the industry shouldn't be bothered with such oversight. Truth is, as we've learned time and again, unregulated capitalism can't be trusted to play honestly. It's why crooked financial instruments have nearly brought down the economy. When that happens, who pays the price? Certainly not the money changers.
What's astonishing is that so many of our politicians would rather side with those money changers than help protect the vast majority of American citizens from corrupt predatory practices. The CFPB, for instance, has established rules to rein in the payday loan industry's practice of preying on the most vulnerable borrowers. But Congress is threatening to overturn those rules just as they shut down the bureau's rules to allow consumers to file class-action suits against financial institutions.
These are the same politicians who happily proclaim that their only goal is to make American great again.
If restructuring a federal agency that has been a model of protecting American consumers from misbehaving companies is making the country great, then we're in real trouble.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. email@example.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel
Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.