In case you haven’t realized it, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump wants to grab you by the p-word.
And by that I mean, “purse.”
Leaving aside other things that might be snatched away if the Raging Pumpkin of Doom becomes president, let’s turn our attention to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. The CFPB is the cop on the personal finance beat and just busted Wells Fargo for bilking customers holding nearly 1 million accounts out of at least $2.5 million.
John Stumpf, the CEO of Well Fargo, got a good and thorough scolding from the senator representing the state of Righteous Indignation, Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts). Then Stumpf suddenly remembered he wanted to “retire” in such a hurry that he gave up $41 million in unvested stock plus his salary.
This isn’t because Stumpf and the board of Wells Fargo suddenly found themselves conscience-stricken. Blaming the entire years-long scam on thousands of low-level employees pretty much proves they’re shameless in expecting us to believe that 5,300 bad apples in offices across the country all spontaneously contrived the exact same grift. I think we safely can assume the board decided Stumpf had a pressing need to spend his golden years fishing in much the same way that Michael Corleone decided in “The Godfather” that Fredo likewise needed to go chase some trout.
A real ‘Hail Mary’ pass
It’s not personal, it’s strictly business. And business was hurting. The scandal prompted California and Ohio to suspend Wells Fargo from handling any state business for a year, while Illinois yanked $30 billion worth of business out of the bank and the city of Chicago took away another $25 million in investments.
In addition to handing our nation’s bankers a $41 million warning that they maybe shouldn’t steal from their own customers, the CFPB has slapped financial services firms hard enough to make them cough up $11 billion to more than 25 million cheated consumers. But the CFPB — founded and now fairy godmothered in Congress by Sen. Warren — would be wiped out under Trump’s stated plan to repeal the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul rules passed by Congress.
So, does that mean any big fan of financial fairness should automatically vote for She Who Must Be Obeyed? Not necessarily so.
Despite the fact that Sen. Warren is strongly backing Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, consumer advocates rightly are wary about what Clinton might do in the White House. In a 2003 book, Warren herself charged that after opposing the truly awful bankruptcy “reform” bill as first lady in 1998, Clinton reversed her stand and voted for the bill as a freshman Senator in 2001, after getting $140,000 in contributions from banking executives.
The bill didn’t pass that year, and Clinton was absent when it did pass in 2005, although she expressed her opposition to it at the time. In 2008 she said she regretted her vote, adding, “I was happy that it never became law.”
To explain her reversal in 2001, Clinton has pointed to a change in the bill that gave some considerations to women and children, including payments for child support if a divorced spouse declared bankruptcy. Clinton has said she was “deluged” by women’s groups seeking protection. “They were desperate to get help,” she said earlier this year. Clinton said she didn’t like the bill even with the changes, but to get those protections, “I held my nose. I voted for it.”
But the recent release of hacked emails from Clinton’s campaign show her advisers admitting that women’s groups didn’t pressure her to vote for the bankruptcy bill. “Evidence does not support that statement,” one senior policy adviser wrote in an email. In fact, more than 30 family or women’s groups opposed the final version of the bill.
They weren’t with her
Continued White House support for the CFPB is important, not only because the Republican Party platform calls for elimination of the “rogue agency” with its director’s “dictatorial powers,” and because banker-backed politicians want the bureau and Dodd-Frank killed. The CFPB also is threatened by a lawsuit that may end up before the Supreme Court that argues the agency’s structure is unconstitutional. Earlier this month, a federal appeals court agreed and gave the president power to fire the CFPB director for any reason. This could open up CFPB decisions to legal challenges.
Protecting the CFPB seems to come down to a lesser-of-two-evils choice: Trump, who has vowed to eliminate Dodd-Frank entirely, or Clinton, who praises Dodd-Frank and promises to put additional safeguards in place but has shown herself to be, at best, wishy-washy on consumer protection. Other hacked documents from her campaign include parts of her notorious speeches to bankers. In those excerpts, Clinton says that the Dodd-Frank reforms were passed “for political reasons” and that additional financial reform, “really has to come from the industry itself.”
Now, in the wake of the Wells Fargo scam Clinton is saying, “If any bank can’t be managed effectively, it should be broken up,” adding, “I’ll protect the CFPB and make sure it can continue its essential work on behalf of the American people.”
Words, words, words, words, words. Voters endured a lot of them in this campaign, including several that this newspaper won’t print. According to Trump, “It’s just words, folks. It is just words,” while Clinton maintains that, “Words matter, my friends.”
This the rare case when both candidates get it right.
Vowing to protect the CFPB could be just words, folks — unless they come in response to legislation overturning Dodd-Frank, when the president’s words need to be, “I must veto the bill.” And words would matter, my friends, if the president aimed them at the director of the CFPB and those words were, “You’re fired!”
Meanwhile, let’s not ignore the words we already know are spoken every day by the big banksters: “Grab ’em by the purse!”