Unmasking the Chamber’s big bank agenda

Since the enactment of sweeping financial regulatory reforms in 2010, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has waged a war to limit consumer and investor protections. This may be beneficial for big business, but at what cost?

The enactment of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank) was a reaction to the greatest financial crisis in the U.S. since the Great Depression. The financial crash that caused the Great Recession was fueled by lax oversight, fraud and lack of regulation. 

{mosads}Dodd-Frank sought to address many of the glaring shortcomings of the previous system of financial regulation. It gave federal officials greater authority over banking, securities and commodity futures. It created a new consumer finance watchdog. It established a regulatory framework for swaps transactions. It provided a mechanism for the orderly break-up of non-bank financial institutions and fashioned a systemic risk council to supervise large banks and other systemically important financial institutions.

The passage of Dodd-Frank was a defeat for big business, which lobbied against many of the provisions designed to balance our system and protect Main Street. The bill’s passage demonstrated that moneyed interests are not always the victors in Washington.

However, since its enactment five years ago, the big business community and Dodd-Frank opponents on Capitol Hill (who are frequently supported by the business community) have repeatedly sought to repeal or weaken many important provisions in the law and starve regulators of funds necessary to effectively implement the law.

The Chamber is one of the top offenders and a leading opponent of Dodd-Frank. It has routinely backed efforts to roll back many of the protections in the financial reform law in the name of both U.S. competitiveness and helping small businesses.

Since 2013, the Chamber has published its annual “Fix. Add. Replace. Agenda” (FAR Agenda) for financial regulatory reform. In its 2015 FAR Agenda, the Chamber spent considerable time and effort discussing ways to rein in the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) under the guise of “preserving consumer choice and access to capital.”

However, a critical analysis of the Chamber’s activities demonstrates that the business group is simply looking for ways to expand the reach of large financial institutions and limit consumer rights. 

The Chamber’s antipathy for the CFPB is not new. In fact, it began before the agency was even established. As early as June 2009, more than a year prior to the enactment of Dodd-Frank, the Chamber announced its opposition to the creation of the CFPB. To put this in context, at a time when the U.S. unemployment rate was approximately 9.5 percent due in large part to the overhang of debt consumers suffered from underwater mortgages, the Chamber teamed up with the nation’s biggest banks to oppose the creation of a new consumer financial regulator. 

For an advocacy group that claims to speak for small- and medium-sized business, the Chamber spends considerable time lobbying to relax regulatory requirements on massive financial institutions. In its 2015 FAR Agenda, the Chamber advanced a number of recommendations that would roll back many of the reforms implemented by the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC).

The Chamber’s principal objection to the FSOC appears to relate to the regulator’s rulemaking on and designations of nonbank financial companies as systemically important financial institutions (SIFIs) – institutions so large and integral to the banking system that their collapse would trigger a financial crisis.

The priority of this issue has been steadily increasing for the Chamber. It wrote a letter dated Dec. 19, 2011, concerning the FSOC’s proposed rules on the designation of SIFIs. Following the completion of the rule, the Chamber issued a press release bashing the new regulation.

In 2013, the Chamber issued an FSOC Reform Agenda calling for a major overhaul of the agency. Then in 2014, the Chamber held a press conference charging that the FSOC lacked transparency and due process. In January 2015, the restructuring of the FSOC made it into Chamber President Tom Donahue’s State of American Business address, and the Chamber submitted an amicus brief in support of Met Life’s challenge to its SIFI designation.

A three-part series recently released by Public Citizen’s Chamber Watch project details the Chamber’s efforts to roll back many of the consumer and investors protections. These rollbacks may well be supported by large financial companies, but letting massive financial institutions write their own rules is exactly what led to the Great Recession.

Marlais is the principal at Lincoln Park Associates which produced Undermining Dodd-Frank, Undermining the CFPB and Undermining the FSOC.


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