Lawsuit Seeks To Pull Back Curtain on Selection Process, Work Product of Taskforce Stacked with Opponents of Consumer Protections
Washington, D.C. — Today, Democracy Forward sued the Trump administration for failing to release records that would shed light on the member selection process and the work of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Taskforce on Federal Consumer Financial Law. The Taskforce is stacked with members who have championed deregulation and opposed consumer protection measures, and the Trump administration is shielding records related to the Taskforce’s operations and the process by which those members were selected.
Announced last October, the Taskforce began its work in January and is seeking to “examine ways to harmonize and modernize federal consumer financial laws,” including by offering recommendations to reduce “unwarranted regulatory burdens.” The composition of the Taskforce, coupled with the Trump administration’s relentless efforts to weaken consumer protections, raises serious concerns that the Taskforce will work against consumers’ interests. Indeed, the CFPB Taskforce is led by Todd Zywicki, a former financial industry lobbyist who has called the bureau itself a “tragic failure” and has argued that the 2008 financial crisis was “not a crisis of consumer protection.”
“The lack of any consumer advocates on the Taskforce and the Trump administration’s pattern of using unlawful and secret policymaking groups raise serious concerns about the Taskforce’s goals,” said Democracy Forward Counsel Kristen Miller. “The CFPB plays an essential role in ensuring consumers are protected against predatory financial schemes, and the public deserves a full accounting of why anti-consumer advocates are now advising the agency behind closed doors.”
In early March, CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger responded to questioning at a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing by stating that the Taskforce was beginning its work, including holding its first roundtable that same day. Yet, there is no publicly available information about this meeting or the other Taskforce activities described in Director Kraninger’s testimony. Director Kraninger further testified that the Taskforce members were appointed via a “public, competitive process.” But no advocates for consumer protection were selected, and the CFPB reportedly acknowledged that at least two of the Taskforce’s members required waivers of the ethics requirements to participate because they have a “personal financial interest” in the industries regulated by the agency.
The Trump administration has demonstrated a pattern of sidestepping the law to create advisory groups loaded with industry executives and cronies of President Trump and other administration officials. These groups allow members to advise on federal policies from which they may stand to benefit and to do so behind closed doors and with no public accountability.
Democracy Forward filed requests for records related to the Taskforce in January 2020 and again in March 2020. The Freedom of Information Act requests sought:
- Records on the selection process used to pick Taskforce members and on the nature and scope of their appointment
- Records related to the application for and waiver of government ethics, conflict of interest, or transparency requirements for the Taskforce or its members
- Communications between the Taskforce and CFPB leadership
- Any documents produced by or for the Taskforce
- Records of Taskforce meetings
To date, the CFPB has failed to produce the requested records, including at least 400 pages of responsive documents. This suit is necessitated by the CFPB’s failure to comply with its statutory FOIA requirements.
The suit was filed on May 7, 2020, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.