Cordray to Chamber: I come in peace

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Richard Cordray offered an olive branch Wednesday to one of his agency's more fiery critics, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Appearing before the nation's largest business lobby as part of the Chamber's Capital Markets Summit, Cordray assured the audience that the new regulator was not looking to line up against business in its efforts to protect consumers. Rather, he made the case for the two entities to work together to ensure the financial marketplace is a fair, open place to competitively sell products.

ADVERTISEMENT

"Whether or not you agree with all of our decisions, we pledge to run a constructive and open process that gives everyone a chance to weigh in. We want your insights," he said, according to prepared remarks. "Let us work together to improve people’s financial lives and do our part to help fashion a more resilient economy and a stronger country."

The Chamber has been strongly critical of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law that created the CFPB and the new agency itself. In particular, the group was incensed when President Obama circumvented GOP opposition in the Senate to recess-appoint Cordray as the bureau's director. Chamber officials believe that the move will ultimately be subject to legal challenges, although the group has stopped short of vowing its own action.

Just hours before Cordray's appearance, Chamber President Tom Donohue said his group and the CFPB have rarely seen eye to eye.

"It's no secret that the Chamber has serious concerns about this new entity," he said in a speech at the event. "Its scope is overly broad. It has virtually unlimited power."

The Chamber has joined with Republicans in pushing for an overhaul to the bureau's structure, which would bring its budget under the control of appropriators and swap Cordray's director position for a bipartisan board.

But Donohue went out of his way to make clear that his critiques of the agency were not a potshot at the man running it.

"I have met Richard Cordray and we look forward to welcoming him here later today," he added. "While we may not agree on everything, we do agree that strong consumer protection is good for everyone."

Similarly, ever since taking over the bureau in January, Cordray has been eager to paint himself as not just a fierce consumer watchdog, but as being no enemy of business. On Wednesday, he highlighted the fact that he is a member of his local Chamber of Commerce back in Ohio.

He contended that the CFPB's goal to make the terms and prices of consumer financial products like credit cards and mortgages easily understood will actually be a boon to businesses that do not try to hoodwink consumers.

"When honest and innovative businesses can succeed on the merits, it begets the competition that drives growth and progress," he said. "Informed consumers keep the marketplace fair, accountable, and competitive."

"Lying, cheating, and stealing ... are not traditional American virtues," he added. "Not in life and not in the business arena. Building a better mousetrap, and fostering innovative approaches that deliver value for consumers while competing fairly — that is the American way."