As Equifax's former chief executive tried to explain how the company responded to the massive data breach before a stern congressional panel, viewers couldn't help but notice the oddly dressed character hovering over his left shoulder.
It was the “Monopoly man,” a.k.a. Rich Uncle Pennybags.
The man was actually a woman, Amanda Werner, a campaign manager for the nonprofit groups Americans for Financial Reform and Public Citizen.
Werner, who sported a tuxedo, an enormous white mustache and a bulging bag of $100 bills, said her goal was to photobomb Smith as he testified before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Her group aims to bring attention to congressional attempts to undermine a new
consumer protection rule intended to weaken the forced arbitration clauses in many contracts.
To guarantee the perfect seat from which to troll Smith, one of Werner's interns from Americans for Financial Reform arrived at the Dirksen Senate Office Building at 7 a.m. to save her a spot.
Werner chose a seat just behind Smith — where cameras would capture her — and performed live-action trolling throughout the hearing. Those included dabbing invisible sweat off her brow with ridiculously large paper money bills and using her monocle to gaze intently at Smith, with mock curiosity. (As many observers have noted, the Monopoly man does not, in fact, wear a monocle.) “I was able to figure out, by having seen a lot of these hearings, which seat would be most visible,” Werner said. “Once I got it, I went full in and just did as many visual gags as I could.” Werner and her colleagues also hand-delivered “get out of jail free cards” to all 100 Senate offices on Tuesday, she said.
Forced arbitration clauses are wielded by corporations to escape accountability, Werner said. By barring individuals from joining collective lawsuits with these clauses, fewer people are willing to challenge corporations in court, effectively concealing potential wrongdoing, she said.
Beyond Equifax, Werner said such clauses are widely used. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau adopted a rule this year to weaken a company’s ability to make arbitration mandatory, allowing more people to file or join a lawsuit to press their complaints. But the financial services industry has fiercely opposed it, as have House Republicans, who advanced legislation this summer to block the rule.
The CFPB has repeatedly defended the rule as a necessary protection for consumers. Richard Cordray, the agency's director, recently wrote in a New York Times op-ed that by blocking collective lawsuits, “arbitration clauses eliminate a powerful means to get justice when a little harm happens to a lot of people.” He said that the rule may cost banks $1 billion a year but that the industry made a record $171 billion in profit in 2016.