The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the US government’s top consumer watchdog and top regulatory nemesis of the Trump administration, is disbanding all of its advisory board and councils, an official confirmed Wednesday.
In an email, all the members of the key groups that advise the agency — like the Consumer Advisory Board, the Academic Research Council, the Community Bank Advisory Council, and the Credit Union Advisory Council — were told their services are no longer needed.
New groups will be formed to “ensure streamlined discussions around the Bureau’s policy priorities and needs in a productive manner,” according to the email. Current members aren’t invited to reapply.
The bureau was already scaling back its boards’ efforts. The 25-member Consumer Advisory Board, mandated by Dodd-Frank to “advise and consult” the CFPB, is supposed to convene twice a year. It hasn’t met since Mick Mulvaney, a critic of CFPB, took over the agency last year.
Ruhi Maker, a senior staff attorney at the New York nonprofit law firm Empire Justice Center and a member of the Consumer Advisory Board (CAB), described the bureau’s move as “infuriating” in a phone interview.
“We now have a CFPB which has political advisers who essentially are not interested in protecting American consumers,” she said. “They are interested in serving those people who prey on American consumers and make profits on the backs of American consumers who have the least ability to afford it.”
CFPB spokesperson John Czwartacki said in a statement that the bureau will continue to meet its “statutory obligation” to convene Consumer Advisory Board meetings and engage in “enhanced forms of public outreach and engagement,” including town halls and roundtables, the first of which will take place in Topeka, Kansas, on Friday. He took a swipe at the CAB members who are speaking out, saying they “seem more concerned about protecting their taxpayer funded junkets to Washington, DC and being wined and dined by the bureau than protecting consumers.”
Consumer Advisory Board members have been wondering what’s up for a while
On Monday, 11 advisory board members held a press call to voice concerns about being sidelined under Mulvaney. The board sent two letters to Mulvaney in May asking about the cancellation of the group’s required meetings.
Mulvaney, a longtime critic of the CFPB, said there was “no cause for concern” about the meetings being canceled, but then the board was disbanded on Wednesday.
“It’s obviously very concerning to us,” said Ann Baddour, director of the fair financial services project at the public interest justice center Texas Appleseed and chair of the Consumer Advisory Board.
Anthony Welcher, the CFPB’s policy associate director for external affairs, held a conference call with advisory board members on Wednesday announcing the decision. He told members they weren’t invited to reapply to their posts, as the bureau was looking or “new perspectives” for “new dialogues,” according to a recording of the call obtained by Politico.
Baddour said Welcher gave two explanations for why the advisory board was being disbanded — to save money, and because of responses to requests for information sent out by the bureau as part of a broader review process.
Baddour said she doesn’t buy either justification — the advisory board is a very small part of the CFPB’s budget, and Welcher couldn’t point to any request for information responses calling for dissolving the advisory boards. She said he admitted the request period has yet to close.
The Consumer Advisory Board was created to ensure that the bureau would “always hear from diverse experts that were in touch with communities outside of Washington, DC,” and removed from the lobbying industry, Baddour said. And now the ousted members are worried that will be lost.
“In the end, this is not about us as individuals; this is about the bureau and its mission,” she said. “It was created because of a huge financial crisis where American families lost one-third of their wealth.”