Missing Records Include Details of OCC Comptroller’s Calls with Bank Execs, Administration’s Effort to Silence Critics of Proposed Rollback of the Community Reinvestment Act
Washington, D.C. — Today, on behalf of the California Reinvestment Coalition, Democracy Forward sued the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) for failing to release records regarding the Trump administration’s proposed rollback of anti-redlining protections afforded by the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA).
After the Trump administration announced proposed changes to regulations governing the implementation of the CRA — which would significantly weaken the act and undermine its anti-redlining purpose — CRC and Democracy Forward submitted two requests seeking records from OCC revealing:
- All correspondence related to the rollback of the CRA regulations
- The unusual steps the agency took to silence CRC and other groups that oppose changes to the CRA
- A full accounting of Comptroller Otting’s off-the-record calls with 17 bank executives on gutting the CRA
OCC has failed to comply with its statutory transparency obligations under the Freedom of Information Act.
“OCC’s failure to release the full account of its efforts to roll back important CRA protections raises the question of what, exactly, the administration is trying to hide,” said Democracy Forward Senior Counsel Nitin Shah. “The CRA’s protections impel banks to meet the credit needs of the communities they serve — particularly low- and moderate-income communities. The public deserves to know how the Trump administration crafted these potentially devastating changes to anti-redlining protections.”
“Not only are communities of color bearing the brunt of COVID-19 infections, but the Trump administration is using its regulatory power to put one more nail in the coffin of communities that have faced discriminatory redlining policies by now undermining landmark civil rights legislation such as the Community Reinvestment Act,” said Paulina Gonzalez-Brito, Executive Director of the California Reinvestment Coalition. “The OCC’s proposed rule is not supported by virtually anyone, except perhaps the big bank CEOs who met several times with the administration behind closed doors. If big banks want a return to the days of no regulation, the Trump administration is giving them the green light to run our economy to the ground and reinstitute redlining practices, and all in the midst of a pandemic where the need for community reinvestment and equal access to loans is heightened. The public has a right to know what is driving this destructive push by the OCC to undermine critical community protections.”
OCC received over 1,500 public comments following its announcement in August 2019 that it would begin a rulemaking process to alter CRA regulations. Instead of impartially considering the public feedback, Deputy Comptroller for Community Affairs Barry Wides published an op-ed criticizing opposition to the administration’s CRA changes and sent CRC letters demanding the organization change its stance to favor the administration. Throughout the comment period, OCC continued to withhold key information about the proposed changes. It refused to release data and analysis that undergirded its proposal and released an insufficient log of Comptroller Otting’s calls with bank executives on the last day of the comment period — and only after the groups demanded the release of Otting’s communications with industry officials.
In a Senate oversight hearing on Tuesday, Senator Sherrod Brown noted that the “proposal will undermine access to credit for those who are already underserved” and asked Chairman Otting why the agency is “plowing ahead” in the midst of the coronavirus crisis when communities need access to credit most. Chairman Otting replied that there were many comments made in support of the proposed changes but failed to acknowledge the myriad of groups who oppose the measures.
Enacted in 1977, the CRA is an essential fair-lending law designed specifically to combat redlining and encourage banks to meet the credit needs of communities where they do business, especially low- and moderate-income communities. The CRA requires banks to lend and invest locally and has long provided crucial protections for historically disenfranchised communities across America. The Trump administration’s proposed rule would fundamentally undermine the central purposes of the CRA: to facilitate retail lending, economic development, affordable housing, and support for small businesses in low- and moderate-income communities.
The suit was filed on May 15, 2020, in the United States 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.
The California Reinvestment Coalition (CRC) is the largest statewide community reinvestment coalition in the country, with over 300 member organizations across California that provide services to tens of thousands of low- income residents. CRC members include affordable housing developers, community development financial institutions, housing counseling agencies, small business technical assistance providers, legal services agencies, and community-based organizations.