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Mick Mulvaney is not fit to lead the CFPB

Mick Mulvaney is not fit to lead the CFPB
© Greg Nash

Even by the very low standards of the Trump Cabinet, it was a stunning admission. “If you were a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn't talk to you,” Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyOn The Money: Mnuchin pulls out of Saudi summit | Consumer bureau to probe controversial blog posts on race | Harris proposes new middle-class tax credit Consumer bureau to probe top Trump official's past racial comments On The Money: Deficit hits six-year high of 9 billion | Yellen says Trump attacks threaten Fed | Affordable housing set for spotlight in 2020 race MORE, now serving as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), told a group of bankers last week. “If you were a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you. If you came from back home and sat in my lobby, I would talk to you without exception, regardless of the financial contributions."

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What Mulvaney referred to as a “hierarchy” in his congressional office is what some Americans might call "pay-to-play." And it goes right to the heart of how the most important consumer watchdog should never be run: providing favors for political donors from an agency that was established with a clear mandate to steer clear of politics entirely. It is unethical behavior for a member of Congress, but it is outrageously unacceptable from someone charged with investigating and overseeing the financial industry, which routinely pours millions of dollars into campaign coffers.

 

It is time for President TrumpDonald John TrumpCorker: US must determine responsibility in Saudi journalist's death Five takeaways from testy Heller-Rosen debate in Nevada Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation MORE to appoint a qualified, permanent and ethical leader for the CFPB. Mick Mulvaney should step down so that can happen. And if he refuses to do so, Trump should fire him.

Even before the revelation about Mulvaney’s remarks to the American Bankers Association, there was little mystery about his close political and financial affiliation with predatory lenders and Wall Street banks. As The Hill reported in March, Mulvaney “dropped the agency’s probe of a payday loan collector and is mulling ending cases against three high-interest lenders.” In the 2015-2016 election cycle, the then-congressman received $31,700 from payday lenders for his reelection campaign.  

In fact, Mulvaney has so thoroughly led the CFPB to benefit the payday lending industry, payday lobbyists are vying to take over the agency completely. Two days after he closed an investigation against her company, World Acceptance CEO Janet Matricciani sent an email to Mulvaney suggesting that, should he wish to quit his moonlighting gig there, "I would love to apply for the position of director of the CFPB.” She says that, because her company’s practices had been under review by the agency, “I have indepth (sic) experience of what a CFPB investigation is like, and so I am in an unparalleled position” to be its leader.

If people who aren’t under investigation by the CFPB during Mulvaney’s watch become the top contenders to replace him, the list will be long indeed. Earlier this month, AP reported that Mulvaney had not taken a single enforcement action — not one — since arriving at the agency. Apparently, payday lenders have become the country’s most ethical industry since Mulvaney was named top cop on the finance beat.

Are Mulvaney’s campaign contributors are knocking on the CFPB’s door to collect a return on their investments? His remarks only serve to heighten existing suspicions. That’s a complete reversal of priorities for an agency that, until Mulvaney arrived, had responded to 1.2 million consumer complaints and returned nearly $12 billion to consumers harmed, cheated or defrauded by financial institutions.

In fact, the best one might be able to say about Mulvaney is that, in light of his comments to the bankers, he at least appears to practice what he preaches. And that’s exactly why he must go. 

Paul Bland is executive director at Public Justice, a national public interest law firm that works to protect environmental sustainability efforts and challenge predatory corporate conduct and government abuses.