Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsBanks

Why the GOP wants to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

It can't be because Republicans have been the main beneficiaries of campaign contributions from banks. No, not that.

May 20, 2011|David Lazarus

There can be only two possible reasons for Republican lawmakers' steadfast opposition to a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

One: Maybe not a single GOP member of Congress has ever had a problem with his or her bank, credit cards, mortgage or car loan, and thus sees no need for additional oversight of financial institutions.

Or two: Maybe GOP lawmakers are responding to the millions of dollars spent by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the financial services industry to undermine a new government agency intended to rein in abusive lending practices.

Man, there's a coin toss, right?

The Republican-controlled House Financial Services Committee voted to limit the power of the new agency by making it simpler for the bureau's decisions to be reversed by other regulators and by replacing its director with a more easily influenced five-member commission.

While the GOP-backed bills are likely to die in the Democratic-controlled Senate, they highlight Republicans' unyielding opposition to providing consumers with new protections from rapacious banks.

"Some have characterized these measures as an attack on the CFPB, but I couldn't disagree more," said Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va), who heads the financial institutions and consumer credit subcommittee. "These bills are an effort to make sure that Congress is doing its job and there is a watchdog for the watchdog."

Um, no. These bills are nothing but a shameless attempt to prevent that watchdog from doing its job. And if banks are keeping their noses clean, they have nothing to worry about.

It's not surprising that Republican lawmakers are doing their darnedest to shield banks from additional scrutiny. In the 2010 campaign cycle, individuals and political action committees associated with banks gave nearly $19 million to federal candidates, committees and parties, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The vast majority of that money made its way to GOP recipients, the center found.

What is surprising is that Republican voters aren't raising a ruckus over their representatives' naked pandering to the money club. Differences in political ideology aside, I'm sure rank-and-file conservatives have just as much hassles with banks as anyone else.

So why aren't they telling their lawmakers to stop shilling for the industry?

Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, an advocacy organization, said he thinks conservatives simply have no idea what their reps are up to.

"Financial reform isn't on the front page anymore, so Republican voters are unaware that their elected officials are carrying water for the Wall Street banks again," he said. "If they knew, they'd probably be outraged."

Also, the GOP has done a masterful job of misdirecting party members into thinking that this isn't about safeguarding consumers from greedy banks but instead is an example of government regulation run amok.

As I reported last year when talk of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was just getting serious, Republican pollster Frank Luntz had concocted talking points for conservatives aimed at reshaping the debate over a new watchdog agency.

"We don't need another federal government agency," he advised lawmakers to say. "We don't need bigger government. What we need is a better approach that promotes accountability, responsibility and effective oversight."

To which I say: If existing regulators were up to the task of keeping consumers safe, there'd be no need for a new agency. They aren't. So there is.

Simple as that.

Chevron redux

Among the many comments and emails I got in response to last week's column on Chevron Corp.'s "We Agree" ad campaign was a recollection from the head of a Glendora start-up called California Energy & Power.

The company, working in conjunction with Caltech, has patented and produces a newfangled wind turbine that it says operates more efficiently than older, propeller-driven models.

Peter Coye, chief executive of California Energy & Power, told me he received a call out of the blue a couple of years ago from Chevron. The oil giant, he said, had heard about the wind turbine and wanted to know more.

Coye said he and his team flew in October 2009 to San Francisco, where they sat for four hours with senior Chevron execs and explained the ins and outs of their renewable-energy technology.

"At the end of the meeting," Coye said, "the Chevron guys said they'd been looking at a lot of renewable-energy projects and ours was the best they'd seen."

So would Chevron, which last year posted $19 billion in profit, be interested in investing $1 million or $2 million in the start-up? Coye said the Chevron execs didn't hesitate to say no. They deemed the wind turbines "too risky," he said.

Coye said he and his people flew home and never heard another word from Chevron.

"When I see their 'We Agree' ads, I just have to laugh," he said. "They want to convince people they're interested in renewables, but I just don't see it."

Morgan Crinklaw, a Chevron spokesman, said the company looks at more than 400 investment opportunities a year. "Our team does not make investments in every company with which they meet," he said.

All I know is that when Chevron declares in its ads that "oil companies should put their profits to good use," and when its own execs are enthusiastic about a renewable-energy technology, it's hard to imagine a better use for a small fraction of those billions in profit.

Unless Chevron is just telling us what we want to hear and isn't really serious about investing in new energy sources.

No, I'm sure that's not the case.

David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|