Consumer Financial Protection Bureau accused of violating transparency law

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Brendan Bordelon Contributor
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A Mississippi man is threatening to sue the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for denying him entry to the proceedings of one of its advisory committees, a move he claims is a breach of federal transparency law.

Bobby Riggs is a nautical engineer active in libertarian political causes. Last Thursday he drove to Jackson, Mississippi to attend a meeting of the Consumer Advisory Board, a council created as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform to advise CFPB Director Richard Cordray and other top-ranking officials on how to wield new regulatory powers against the finance industry.

“I said ‘I’m just a small businessman, and I really want to sit in on your general committee meeting and hear what’s going on, because I have some ongoing financial problems,’” Riggs told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

But CFPB organizers prevented Riggs from hearing what the advisory committee had to say. “He just shrugged his shoulders and said ‘I’m not picking on you or anybody else,’” Riggs related. “‘We just don’t allow anybody from the public into these meetings.’”

Riggs believes it was his right under federal law to attend that hearing. The Federal Advisory Committee Act states that “each advisory committee meeting will be open to the public,” except for extraordinary cases involving national security or an equally-pressing need for secrecy. In these cases, the agency in charge of the committee must give the reasons for the closure in writing.

“Just about every time they’re convening, it has to be open to the public . . . and when it’s not open to the public it has to be in the federal register with an explanation of why it’s not open to the public,” said John Berlau, a finance scholar with the DC-based Competitive Enterprise Institute, to TheDCNF. “Neither of those requirements were fulfilled here, and this isn’t the first time they’ve done it.”

“Why do you even go to Mississippi for a meeting if you’re not letting the people of Mississippi into most of it?” he asked. “They want input from liberal activists and Democratic partisans without public scrutiny. That’s the only conclusion that you can draw from this.”

The Consumer Advisory Board is made up of academics and finance industry experts, most of whom have a decidedly liberal bent. The Washington Free Beacon reported that since 2007, committee members have donated over 60 times more money to Democratic candidates than Republican ones.

One panelist is even a member of the Democratic National Committee, while other have worked for groups like ACORN and Fannie Mae.

“There’s really no one representing a conservative, a libertarian or even a centrist point of view on the committee,” said Berlau.

The Consumer Advisory Board did offer a brief chance for public participation during their two-day visit to Mississippi, holding a brief “public session” in rural Itta Bena on Wednesday.

“They say they want to get input from across the country, so they’re going to different states,” Berlau said, “yet they don’t, they close themselves off for a very scripted two hours. Even for the public session you had to send in your name and affiliation.”

Riggs had another issue with the public meeting. “That’s four hours away from me, one-way trip. It would’ve killed my whole day,” he said. “I figured I’d just come up to Jackson, 15 minutes away.”

Riggs said his shipbuilding business has been held up because of new Dodd-Frank regulations, which make it difficult for some of his customers to receive loans. He was disappointed he wasn’t able to share his concerns with the Board.

“I would be interested in that committee forging new economic alternatives to financing the vessels that I design,” he said.

“Mr. Riggs has a lot of experience as a consumer and an entrepreneur dealing with credit,” Berlau said. “His perspective could be very valuable, but he was not allowed to listen to what was going on at the meeting, let alone ask a question and give his viewpoints.”

“I think his prospects for a lawsuit are good,” he continued. “This does seem like a clear violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which was written so some private individuals don’t have preference over others in government meetings.”

Berlau also hinted that the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is already spearheading one lawsuit against the CFPB, is considering involvement in Mr. Riggs’ case.

“We have an intense interest in the overreach of the CFPB, and we’re exploring all angles,” he told TheDCNF.

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