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On September 28, Senator Elizabeth Warren delivered a keynote speech at the Center for American Progress, in which she chronicled the history of the CFPB and defended the agency against political attacks. Further, ahead of the oral arguments that took place before the Supreme Court on October 3, Senator Warren criticized the holding of the 5th Circuit, which ruled that the agency’s funding mechanism was unconstitutional. She noted that “none of the federal banking regulators is funded through appropriations,” and that “Congress decided to protect the integrity of these regulators from the chaos and politicking of the annual appropriations process by giving them independent funding structures.”
Legislation Seeking Better Transparency in Federal Agency Settlements Passes Unanimously in U.S. Senate
On September 21, Senate Bill 1109, the Truth in Settlements Act, passed in the U.S. Senate with amendments by unanimous consent and has now been referred to the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for consideration. Originally introduced in January 2014 and sponsored by Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), the Truth in Settlements Act would require federal agencies to post online, in a searchable format, a list of each covered settlement agreement, criminal or civil, with payments totaling $1 million or more. The list would entail, among other things, (i) the names of the settling parties and the amount each must pay; (ii) a description of the claims each party settled; (iii) whether a portion of the settlement amount is tax-deductible; and (iv) any actions the settling parties must take under the settlement agreement in lieu of payment. If enacted, the bill would require agencies to publicly explain via written statement why confidentiality is justified for certain instances. The bill, co-sponsored by Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), aims to provide greater transparency and oversight regarding settlements reached by federal enforcement agencies.
On November 18, Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent letters to 16 financial service institutions regarding recent data breaches. The letters requested that the institutions provide information about the data breaches, including “detailed briefings from corporate IT security officers.” The letters were tailored to the specific institutions, with requests to two companies that they provide information on how the “potential data breaches may have affected their administration of government purchase and charge cards under contracts with the General Services Administration.” The letters also remind the institutions of their responsibility to protect and safeguard consumers’ personal information.
On May 14, six Senate Democrats, including Senate Banking Committee Members Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), sent a letter to CFPB Director Richard Cordray asking that the CFPB consider the proposals included in Senator Merkley’s SAFE Lending Act, S. 172, in developing the forthcoming payday lending proposed regulations. That legislation primarily attempts to address perceived gaps in the regulation of Internet and offshore small dollar lenders—including those lenders affiliated with Native American tribes—and lead generators. The letter also petitions the CFPB to adopt “strong” reforms—such as minimum loan terms, fee and renewal limitations, and a waiting period between loans—that cover all types of small dollar lending. The CFPB highlighted many of these potential reforms in a March 2014 report and field hearing.
On April 22, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Congressman George Miller (D-CA) and 22 other lawmakers sent a letter to Department of Education (DOE) Secretary Arne Duncan, supporting the DOE’s ongoing efforts to revise its rules that govern the ways higher education institutions request, maintain, disburse, and otherwise manage federal student aid disbursements. The DOE is considering changes that would, among other things, clarify permissible disbursement practices and agreements between education institutions and entities that assist in disbursing student aid, and increase consumer protections governing the use of prepaid cards and other financial instruments. The lawmakers specifically called on the DOE to “mandate contract transparency, prohibit aggressive marketing, and ban high fees when colleges partner with banks to sponsor debit cards, prepaid cards, or other financial products used to disburse student aid” through rulemaking that would, among other things, (i) prohibit colleges from entering into preferred relationships with financial institutions to offer debit cards or other financial products that charge fees associated with the disbursement and use of federal student aid; (ii) ban revenue sharing deals between colleges and financial institutions; and (iii) require colleges to post agreements with banks on their websites and report them to the CFPB and other government agencies annually.
On March 17, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representatives Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Maxine Waters (D-CA) sent a letter requesting a meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder to review the findings of a recent report on the DOJ’s mortgage fraud enforcement efforts. The lawmakers state that the report raises questions about the DOJ’s “commitment to investigate and prosecute crimes such as predatory lending, loan modification scams, and abusive mortgage servicing practices.” They are seeking information from the Attorney General about steps the DOJ will take to ensure that its efforts “to identify and prosecute those responsible for fraudulent mortgage practices are equal to the harms such crimes have caused [the members’] constituents.”
On February 26, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and other Democratic Senators, together with Representatives Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Maxine Waters (D-CA), and other Democratic House members, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder encouraging the DOJ to “continue a vigorous review of potential payment fraud, anti-money-laundering violations, and other illegal conduct involving payments by banks and third-party payment processors.” The lawmakers highlighted a number of specific issues on which the DOJ should focus: (i) know-your-customer obligations, which they believe should include a review of whether a lender holds all required state licenses and follows state lending laws; (ii) use of lead generators, including those that auction consumer data; (iii) high rates of returned, contested, or otherwise failed debits or the regular use of remotely created checks, which they state may indicate payment fraud; and (iv) lenders’ failure to incorporate or maintain a business presence in the U.S., which they assert can be indicative of fraud and other payment system violations, including money-laundering.
Democratic Lawmakers Urge Federal Reserve Board To Increase Direct Role In Supervision And Enforcement
On February 11, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) sent a letter to newly appointed Federal Reserve Board Chairman Janet Yellen, asking that she reconsider the Board’s policy of delegating supervisory and enforcement powers to staff. The lawmakers cite a recent letter from former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, in which he explained that in the last 10 years, the Board of Governors voted on only 11 of nearly 1,000 enforcement actions, and that under current application of the Federal Reserve’s enforcement delegation policy, the Federal Reserve can enter into consent orders without ever receiving formal approval of senior staff. The letter asks for a change in policy that would require the Board to retain greater authority over the Federal Reserve’s enforcement and supervisory activities. Specifically, the lawmakers recommend that (i) the Board vote on any consent order that involves $1 million or more or that requires a bank officer to be removed and/or new management installed; (ii) staff formally notify the Board before entering into a consent order under delegated authority; (iii) each Board member be provided with the necessary staffing capacity to review and analyze pending enforcement actions; and (iv) all Board members receive a copy of all letters sent to the Chairman or another Board member by a committee or member of Congress.
On January 8, Senate Banking Committee members Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) released the “Truth in Settlements Act.” The legislation would mandate that for any criminal or civil settlement entered into by a federal agency that requires total payments of $1 million or more, the agency must post online in a searchable format a list of each covered settlement agreement. The list must include, among other things: (i) the total settlement amount and a description of the claims; (ii) the names of parties and the amount each settling party is required to pay; and (iii) for each settling party, the amount of the payment designated as a civil penalty or fine, or otherwise specified as not tax deductible. The bill also would require that public statements by an agency about a covered settlement describe: (i) which portion of any payments is a civil or criminal penalty or fine, or is expressly specified as non-tax deductible; and (ii) any actions the settling company is required to take under the agreement, in lieu of or in addition to any payment. The bill would exempt disclosure of information subject to a confidentiality provision, but would in cases where partial or full confidentiality is applied, require the agency to issue a public statement about why confidential treatment is required to protect the public interest of the U.S. The bill also would require public companies to describe in their annual and periodic SEC reports any claim filed for a tax deduction that relates to a payment required under a covered settlement. In announcing the legislation, Senator Warren stated that the bill is needed to “shut down backroom deal-making and ensure that Congress, citizens and watchdog groups can hold regulatory agencies accountable for strong and effective enforcement that benefits the public interest.”