President Trump sent budget director Mick Mulvaney over to the federal consumer financial watchdog, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in order to bleed it dry or hack it into bits, whichever comes first. On Wednesday, Mulvaney took the hatchet approach when he unceremoniously dismissed the watchdog’s 25-member advisory board, the Consumer Advisory Board, which convened industry experts of all stripes, from banking executives to academics and activists, and was charged with setting agency priorities by working with consumer groups to identify and prioritize areas where American consumers were getting ripped off.
So what caused Mulvaney, the interim acting head of the CFPB, to oust this pretty well-intentioned group of experts? The move appeared to have been months in the making, as Mulvaney had already cancelled the group’s scheduled meeting in February, one of two in-person meetings the group is legally required to convene each year. Last week, he cancelled another scheduled meeting of the board. That prompted 11 board members to hold a press conference Monday criticizing Mulvaney’s leadership of the consumer protection bureau that was created in the wake of the financial crisis specifically to protect consumers as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial law. Two days later, Mulvaney dispatched his deputy to axe the group altogether via conference call. The administration officials made a vague attempt to try to make the dismissal look like an effort to by thrifty with taxpayer dollars to the tune of “multi-hundred-thousand dollars a year.” Oh yeah?
Mulvaney’s flouting of the Dodd-Frank rules may be increasingly brazen, perhaps because the cover provided by the outrageousness of transgressions elsewhere in the Trump administration, but his disdain for the methods and mission of the agency he was charged with running is longstanding. As a congressman, Mulvaney called the consumer protection bureau “a joke” and, as acting head, he’s effectively frozen its budget and undermine its authority at every possible turn. But the cherry on Mulvaney’s sundae of sabotage came last week when the leader of the agency empowered to protect consumers from unscrupulous financial actors, like payday lenders, sided with those very payday lenders when they sued the CFPB to block new regulations on the industry.