The popular television series Scandal has developed a cult-like following in recent years, but how accurate are the show’s story lines? Are there firms that are able to “fix” politicians’ messes? Can elections be rigged by tampering with voting machines? Do agencies exist that operate outside the boundaries of traditional government oversight with unlimited budgets? In at least one case, the answer is yes.
In the fictional Washington of ABC’s Scandal, B613 is a super-secret spy agency that operates outside the bounds of the federal government, using its assets to “protect the Republic.” Similar to B613, the real-life Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), established in 2010 by Dodd-Frank, operates as an “independent agency” outside the constitutional authority of the United States Congress, with little oversight or accountability. While the CFPB may not be running around murdering those who pose a threat to the United States government, this seemingly innocuous agency wields an unprecedented amount of power over people and institutions.
Similar executive agencies are controlled by bipartisan commissions or boards to ensure their decisions are fully considered and actions are made in line with our nation’s democratic values. The CFPB is controlled by one man. This man does not go by the name “Command,” but is known as Director, and like B613’s Command, in some ways Director Richard Cordray is even more powerful than the President of the United States.
Director Cordray is a former Attorney General from Ohio and two-time Jeopardy contestant. As head of the CFPB, Cordray enjoys unchecked power to make unilateral decisions on regulatory activities, rulemaking procedures, and enforcement actions against numerous American companies. In the cross hairs of the Director are an array of industries that represent millions of private sector jobs, including for-profit colleges, debt collection companies, major banks, credit card companies, payday and installment lenders, and even real estate agents.
Through collaboration with agencies like the Justice and Treasury Departments, Director Cordray is able to piggyback onto the threat faced by industries targeted by the Administration’s “Operation Choke Point,” which sounds like something from a TV show, but is in fact a program of the Justice Department designed to eliminate entire free-market industries and consolidate control of consumer financial services under the federal government. It is no coincidence that while the DOJ and FDIC work to destroy the short-term lending, firearms, multi-level marketing, and casino industries by intimidating banks into ending their banking relationships with businesses within those industries, the CFPB is working to incapacitate the companies themselves by executing rulemaking procedures and issuing unilateral enforcement actions against them.
The correlations don’t end there. B613 agents are masters at extracting information from people, and the CFPB has, in its first two years of operations, shown that it, too, can masterfully extract and collect information from American companies and consumers. Only instead of pliers, the CFPB goes after free-market companies with a tool called a CID (Civil Investigative Demand), which amounts essentially to a warrantless fishing expedition for all the trade secrets and consumer data of a corporation targeted by this unaccountable agency. Other times, the CFPB simply buys vast reams of consumer data from credit card companies. It is estimated that the CFPB already has collected consumer data on 85-90% of all American consumer credit cards with outstanding balances. This data collection program dwarfs even the NSA’s surveillance program, and should be equally as troubling to lawmakers and the American people.
When the CFPB finds something they don’t like on one of their fishing expeditions against a company, much like B613 agents, they make it hurt. Cash America International was the first such company to have unprecedented enforcement action leveled against them totaling over $19 million. The fines against these and other companies are sure to keep coming as the Director is emboldened by the lack of public outcry or congressional oversight in response to the CFPB’s actions.
The existence of an agency that operates wholly outside of America’s constitutional system of checks and balances is not only a threat to the values enshrined in our Constitution; it is a threat to the very stability of our country. That this particular agency has its sights set on killing free-market industries that pose a threat to the Administration’s political agenda should be cause for even greater alarm.
Incidentally, Director Cordray also has total control over the CFPB’s budget. Recently, the Director wanted to “rehab” the CFPB’s offices, conveniently located next to the White House, and estimated the job at $55 million. Without congressional consent or approval, the renovation budget ballooned to over $145 million in taxpayer money and continues to grow.
In the same way that Scandal’s Command character is able to intimidate those around him and control their behavior without any accountability or transparency, Director Cordray is able to set his own rules, and choose which rules he wants to follow. As he tests the limits of his power, he is running into very little resistance. As in Scandal, the only way to stop this unelected, unaccountable, out-of-control bureaucrat is for lawmakers to don their “white hats” and fundamentally reform the Director’s position and the agency’s access to the funds that enable them to carry out their unconstitutional hidden agenda, before this renegade agency puts us into a “hole” from which our economy and our country cannot escape.