A watchdog group is investigating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) for a contract award that may have been politically motivated.
The Cause of Action Institute filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request Thursday for details of a nearly $14 million contract between the CFPB and GMMB, Inc., an advertising firm in Washington, D.C., which created ads for President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. (RELATED: Consumer Protection Agency Doles Out 16 Million On Ads In The Last 8 Months)
The FOIA request aims to discover whether GMMB is using information gained from their work with the federal government on partisan campaign materials.
“Given GMMB’s partisan political clients, [Cause of Action] Institute is concerned about the nature of and safeguards applied to any CFPB information supplied to or received from GMMB,” Alfred J. Lechner, Jr., president and CEO of Cause of Action Institute President said in a statement.
As late as 2014, GMMB created partisan campaign advertisements for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), according to the agency’s website. Because “recent empirical data show political favoritism in federal contract awards,” Cause of Action Institute “seeks to confirm that appropriate firewalls are in place to ensure that American taxpayers are not subsidizing political coordination,” the statement said.
Since the start of fiscal year 2016 on Oct. 1, 2015, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has spent more than $15.7 million was spent on advertising. The purpose of the contract with GMMB is to “grow awareness and trust of the CFPB as a resource for free and unbiased information regarding consumer financial products and services among financially active consumers,” The Wall Street Journal reported. The CFPB has purchased advertising assistance from GMMB since 2013, according to USAspending.gov.
The Cause of Action Institute’s FOIA demands the details CFPB’s contract with the advertising agency, all communications between the two organizations, and any consumer data that may have been shared.
The details of the contract are unavailable, but Raelynn Olson, managing partner of GMMB, told the Wall Street Journal that most of the money goes to media placement and demographic testing “so more Americans are aware of and benefit from the financial education resources provided by the CFPB.”
The CFPB is a unique federal agency with a dual mission of investigating financial institutions and educating consumers on financial products. Created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB aims “to stand up for consumers and make sure everyone is treated fairly,” according to its website.
“People aren’t sure what to make of it,” CFPB director Richard Cordray said to the Washington Post when he took the job in 2013. “They’re worried about a new agency and how it will exercise its authority. But we’ve been reasonable, open-minded, accessible and genuinely focused on trying to get this right.”
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