Obama Consumer Finance Protection Bureau Flouts Transparency Law

Obama Consumer Finance Protection Bureau Flouts Transparency Law

On its website,the Obama Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) proudly boasts:

Our mission is…ensuring that consumers get the information they need to make the financialdecisions they believe are best for themselves and their families–that pricesare clear up front, that risks are visible, and that nothing is buried in fineprint. In a market that works, consumers should be able to make directcomparisons among products and no provider should be able to use unfair,deceptive, or abusive practices.

And that, to put it kindly, is what is popularly known aslaughable – were the CFBB’s perversion of its own mission not so serious. Therecent efforts by Judicial Watch and the WashingtonExaminer shed some sunlight into the operations of the CFPB and provide newinsights into why this secretive, shadowy agency should never have been createdin the first place.

On March 3, 2014, we filed a Freedom ofInformation Act (FOIA) lawsuit on behalf of the Washington Examiner against the CFPB seeking toobtain records detailing $90 million in cost overruns for the remodeling of theCFPB Washington headquarters. According to a February 14 Examiner article,over the past two years, the cost of the remodeling project has soared from $55million to $145 million. How’s that for making sure “that prices are clear upfront, that risks are visible, and that nothing is buried in fine print?”

Judicial Watch filed its lawsuit in support of a July 24,2013 FOIA request filed by Richard Pollock, a senior investigative reporterat the Washington Examiner, seeking access to records concerning theheadquarters’ renovation. Over the course of several months, the CFPB notifiedthe Examiner that it had located a total of 350 pages responsive to theFOIA request. However, CFPB informed the Examiner it was withholding 335of the 350 pages.

In an editorialaddressing the CFPB refusal to comply with its FOIA request,the Examiner observed:

CFPB officialsresolutely refuse to provide relevant documents sought by the Examiner concerning the buildingrenovation. The few cursory documents that were turned over shed no light onthe project. Since CFPB has all the time in the world, plus legions of lawyersand a huge budget that Congress can’t touch, odds are good that shining thedisinfectant of sunlight won’t happen any time soon. That’s an open invitationfor waste, abuse and corruption.

At a heated January28, 2014 hearing held by Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), chairman of the Oversightand Investigations Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee, CFPBDirector Richard Cordray obstinately refused to provide details about the remodelingproject’s soaring costs. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), chairman of the House Committeeon Financial Services, pointed out, “You are spending more per square foot thanthe Trump World Tower.” McHenry subsequently asked the Federal Reserveinspector general to initiate an investigation into the cost overruns.

It has taken all of that to try to get the CFPB simply tofulfill its stated mission of “ensuring that consumers get the information theyneed.” They are still stonewalling, and we have now entered the fray to forcetheir hand.

Mark Tapscott, the executive editor of the Washington Examiner, said, “Documents to explain why a government bureau is spending solavishly on renovations to its headquarters are exactly the kind of informationthe FOIA is meant to make available to taxpayers. We shouldn’t have to go tocourt to get them, but it’s important to make the point that the Americanpeople have just as much of a right to know what CFPB is doing with their moneyas they do their local dogcatchers.”

This is not the first time Judicial Watch has gone to courtto procure documents the CFPB was hiding from the public. In June 2013, weobtained records from theConsumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) revealing thatthe agency has spent millions of dollars for the warrantless collection andanalysis of Americans’ financial transactions. The documents also revealed thatCFPB contractors may have been required to share the information with

The full extent of the CFPB personal financial datacollection program was revealed in a document entitled “INDEFINITE-DELIVERYINDEFINITE-QUANTITY (IDIQ) STATEMENT OF WORK” stating, “The CFPB seeks toacquire and maintain a nationally representative panel of credit information onconsumers for use in a wide range of policy research projects… The panel shallbe a random sample of consumer credit files obtained from a national database ofcredit files.” At the time, the US Chamber of Commerce accused the CFPB ofbreaking the law by demanding the account-level data without a warrant orNational Security Letter.

The fact is, from its inception, the CFPB has been placed deliberatelyand dangerously out of reach of oversight by the American people. It has actedwith arrogant indifference to attempts to pierce its veil of secrecy, evenwhile violating the privacy rights of millions of Americans. This lawsuit could help shed some much-neededlight on what is otherwise an essentially covert operation with oppressivecontrol over consumer finances. Judicial Watch is pleased to help the Examiner obtain these documents onbehalf of the American people.

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