Richard Cordray was director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from 2012 to 2017. He is running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Ohio.
President Trump talked a lot about “forgotten Americans” during the 2016 campaign. That led many people who are struggling in this country to believe he would have their backs in the White House. He has not.
When I stepped down as the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in November, I knew there would be changes. But what I have seen since has troubled me deeply.
The CFPB was designed to serve as a tough and independent watchdog for consumers. Yet Trump and White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, the bureau’s putative acting head, have bullied the CFPB and put their thumbs firmly on the scale in favor of the predators — the same lenders who for years had strong influence in Washington, powered by armies of lobbyists and a torrent of campaign contributions.
Over the past few weeks, the administration has dismissed enforcement actions, delayed the payday lending rule and halted the investigation of Equifax. Calling for the CFPB to act with more “humility,” Mulvaney has taken up the cause of financial industry cheaters who have done — and continue to do — great harm to the American people.
This behavior toward the CFPB — and agencies across Washington — has starkly exposed the falsity of candidate Trump’s grandiose campaign promises about taking on the corrupt interests that prey on working Americans and their families.
In places such as my home state of Ohio, economic growth has been sluggish and uneven after years of Republican control of state government. Longtime employers that provided good, steady jobs to these communities have been replaced by more transitory businesses that offer part-time contracts, lower wages and uncertain benefits. And in far too many cities and towns, predatory industries have swooped in to bleed communities and take advantage of families already struggling to make ends meet.
The CFPB was created to give Americans an advocate to stand on their side, with the resources and independence to rein in abuses by the financial industry. When soldiers were misled by deceptive lenders, we got their money back. When students were buried under crushing debt, we fought to make them whole. And when lenders tried to discriminate based on race, we put a stop to it.
This work was not popular with everyone in Washington. Time and again, I was berated by Republican members of Congress for being too aggressive on behalf of consumers.
Despite these challenges, the CFPB became a powerful force for good. During my tenure, we put $12 billion back in the pockets of 29 million Americans who had been victims of wrongdoing. We also gave countless people hope that, for once, they would have an ally on their side if they were mistreated by a powerful corporation.
Even during the first year of the Trump administration, in the face of stiff and relentless resistance, my colleagues at the bureau continued to put in place strong new consumer protections, including tough new restrictions on predatory payday lenders. These purveyors of economic hopelessness entrap Americans — as many live from paycheck to paycheck — into a downward spiral of exorbitant fees. Countless people just trying to get by and honestly pay their bills end up ensnared in inescapable debt.
Now, while the current outlook may seem dark, I have faith in the future of the CFPB and its work on behalf of consumers. It is an agency born out of the financial crisis and anchored in principles of fairness and economic opportunity for all. It fulfills a vital role, not just by ensuring justice for people who are wronged but also by showing all Americans that their government can fight for them and not for the entrenched special interests.
As I traveled the country for the past seven years, and now crisscross Ohio as a candidate for governor, I am struck by how that simple but critical mission is so universally understood. In big cities and small towns, red states and blue states, Americans feel the vital importance of a government that will hold people accountable when they do wrong. They understand that Wall Street cannot be left to police itself. And they know key decisions should be made in the public interest, not sold to the highest bidder.
That is why, even at times such as these, I am confident that the CFPB and its mission will live on long after Trump has left office. The need for Americans to have advocates and allies to balance against the powerful interests will endure for as long as our republic does.