Five years on, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act seems to be pinching right where its sponsors intended. For a commercial break in the third GOP primary debate Nov. 10, the American Action Network made their opposition personal: But even writers in the Washington Bureau of American Banker magazine think they may have personalized it in the wrong way.
“Wall Street Reform” is pretty abstract for most Americans, so the AAN ad went for the other end of Dodd-Frank, the creation of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. CFPB, according to its Web site, was meant “to protect consumers by carrying out federal consumer financial laws.” It’s empowered to
- Write rules, supervise companies, and enforce federal consumer financial protection laws
- Restrict unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices
- Take consumer complaints
- Promote financial education
- Research consumer behavior
- Monitor financial markets for new risks to consumers
- Enforce laws that outlaw discrimination and other unfair treatment in consumer finance.”
Its website is pretty clear and easy to navigate, especially for a government site, and SUBMIT A COMPLAINT is the only one of six tabs on the home page in color.
The AAN ad, however, calls CFPB “designed to interfere with your financial decisions: that car loan you needed; your mortgage; that personal loan.” It shows forty-some CFPB workers simply stamping one “loan application” after another “DENIED.” Of course, the CFPB is not empowered to make direct decisions on loan applications to private financial institutions. In fact, a blog posted to the CFPB site on Sept. 17 is subtitled “Making the mortgage process easier for you.” It describes a new toolkit for mortgage applicants, and forms and disclosures that once an applicant had to request and, since October 3, lenders have been required to supply without asking, and with longer windows for applicants to digest and understand the information.
The complaint process can get pretty personal, too, and financial institutions take it seriously. Just getting an inquiry from the CFPB to verify the details reported in a complaint can be enough to make a mortgage holder back down from monthly phone calls or a bank from demanding that a former depositor pay fees that are no longer legal to charge (under changes that came with the establishment of the CFPB).
AAN acknowledges, in its press release about the ad AAN Launches Primary Debate Ad Buy To Stop Elizabeth Warren’s CFPB, that its intent is to “stop [the] CFPB,” and that it identifies Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) as the parent of the office. In the ad, Sen. Warren is shown in a cult-of-personality-type banner over the imagined CFPB work space, along with the director who was nominated when Warren’s appointment was blocked, Richard Cordray. One of American Banker’s four reasons the ad might backfire is that it’s “very likely to help Warren raise money.”
The ad ends with an injuction to “Tell Congress: Stop the CFPB,” with a phone number and URL . But that site is quite impersonal, offering only a rerun of the ad, a repeat of the 800 number*, and if you click on “take action” at the top, the clip from the ad simply stamps at you. What else you’re supposed to say to Congress, it seems, is up to you.
*The 800 number answers “Welcome to the American Action Network hotline. Press 1 to be connected to the Capitol switchboard.” Indeed, if you press 1, you get “the US Capitol switchboard” and instructions to connect to the office of either your Senator or your Representative.