Mulvaney deepens feud with consumer advocates after board shutdown

Mulvaney deepens feud with consumer advocates after board shutdown
© Greg Nash

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) on Wednesday said it is making cuts to three key advisory boards, enraging advocates who say the agency’s acting director doesn't want to engage with dissenting opinions. 

The CFPB told members of the advisory boards Wednesday that the bureau would shrink the groups and shift the agency’s external outreach to town halls and roundtables across the U.S., citing cost concerns.

CFPB communications director John Czwartacki said that members of the boards had not been fired and that the bureau would “continue to meet its statutory obligation” to convene board meetings. Members are not paid to be on the board.

The changes will impact the CFPB’s Community Advisory Board, Community Bank Advisory Council, and Credit Union Advisory Council.

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The CFPB told board members in a Wednesday email that the groups wouldn’t meet until the bureau selects their replacements. It’s unclear if current members will be able to reapply for their positions, with board members offering conflicting accounts of several follow-up calls with the bureau.

Members of the bureau’s Consumer Advisory Board (CAB) expressed the most outrage over the decision, and have feuded with Mulvaney over the CFPB’s direction for months. The 25-person board represents a slew of consumer advocacy, legal aid and fair lending groups that have opposed Mulvaney’s efforts to ease the CFPB’s regulation of banks and lenders.

Mulvaney has sought to slash the CFPB’s budget and reshape the bureau from within, aiming to streamline an agency he has insisted should not exist.

But CAB members said Mulvaney’s move to reshape the board is meant to silence opponents of the bureau’s new direction.

“The current leadership has no legitimate rationale for why they’ve dismissed anyone other than they don’t want to hear dissenting voices,” said Josh Zinner, the CEO of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and a CAB member.

The CAB is one of four external CFPB panels that meet with the bureau’s director to identify issues worthy of the agency’s attention. The community board is the only panel mandated to exist by Dodd-Frank, and its charter orders the CFPB director to meet with the board at least twice yearly.

The board, which also includes financial industry representatives, convened three times each year under former CFPB Director Richard CordrayRichard Adams CordrayTrump to nominate budget official as next consumer bureau chief Issa tamps down rumors of consumer bureau nomination New polls show Dem leading Republican in Ohio governor's race MORE, a Democrat.

CAB members said they were left with few answers from CFPB officials as to why the boards would be reshaped. Several members who had held a conference call with CFPB associate policy director Anthony Welcher said he expressed the bureau’s desire to rid the panels of members with “preconceived notions.”

Chi Chi Wu, a CAB member and staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, said the two-day meetings gave the CFPB a deep well of knowledge and collaboration among a wide array of experts.

“They were jam-packed. We were working the whole time,” Wu told The Hill. “All of us attended the CAB meetings because we care about consumers.”

CFPB officials downplayed the furor among consumer advocacy groups and insisted that CAB members were only looking out for themselves, not the groups they claim to serve.

“The outspoken members of the Consumer Advisory Board seem more concerned about protecting their taxpayer funded junkets to Washington, D.C., and being wined and dined by the Bureau than protecting consumers,” Czwartacki said.

CAB members called those comments insulting and outrageous. Several said that some members offered to pay their own expenses during a conference call explaining the changes and wondered why they weren’t asked to do so before.

The CFPB covers airfare and a hotel stay for board members flying into Washington, D.C., for the meetings, making up a small percentage of the agency’s budget. CAB members said the CFPB would put them up in budget hotels in the district’s outskirts, and that they spent the vast majority of their time in a conference room.

“We give two days of our time working, sitting at our table from morning until night, digging into these weighty issues,” Zinner said. “They have no actual rationale for dismissing these boards, and now they’re just resorting to name calling. It’s absurd.”

--Updated at 6:26 p.m.