Wells Fargo got caught cheating American consumers. Their CEO, John Stumpf, who makes more than $19 million per year gets to keep his job. More than 5,300 low-level bank tellers lost theirs. The bank will pay a $185 million fine (3.3 percent of their $5.6 billion second quarter earnings) and promise not to do it again. For crimes that would land an average American in prison, Wells Fargo is paying a fine equivalent to 3 days’ pay.
Between 2011 and 2015, without the consent of their customers, Wells Fargo employees opened more than 1.5 million bank accounts, transferred funds between accounts (resulting in more than $2 million in overdraft and service fees), applied for more than 565,000 credit cards (charging more than $400,000 in fees), issued debit cards and enrolled consumers in online-banking services.
This fraud could have been happening before 2011, but the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — the entity that discovered and levied these civil penalties — did not exist before then.
It almost didn’t exist at all.
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The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was a major overhaul of financial industry regulation. It aimed to prevent a replay of the Great Recession of 2008 with the addition of much needed protection for consumers.
Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township, and 200 other members of Congress voted no on Dodd-Frank. If they had 11 more like-minded colleagues, the CFPB would not exist, and Wells Fargo would have continued cheating millions of Americans. They argued that the CFPB would threaten the health of banks that provide financing for businesses that create jobs and unduly ban profitable products. They also wanted the CFPB’s rules to be subject to the approval of all other banking regulators, essentially giving veto power to the “regulators” who participated in the 2008 financial meltdown. They wanted the fox to guard the henhouse.
In February 2014, Thompson and 231 members of Congress passed a bill to strip the CFPB of the authority that led to this fraud being caught. The proposed bill would have required the CFPB to obtain a consumer’s permission before investigating fraud. In short, the naysayers tried to hobble the bureau that was created to protect consumers from financial fraud. The bill died in the Senate.
In 2010, we narrowly escaped an economic depression that would have devastated our nation. Dodd-Frank and the CFPB were designed to prevent similar financial crises. They were plans for the long-game. More than 200 members of Congress decided that to play putt-putt government instead.
Americans have been getting pummeled by putt-putt government. Putt: fight Dodd-Frank. Putt: denude the CFPB. Putt: sequestration. Putt: block a Supreme Court nominee. Putt: continually vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act. It’s no use practicing your putting if you can’t get the ball to the green.
Our Congress is sorely lacking in long-term thinking and long-term problem solving. They are consumed with the immediate response and the immediate reaction. We elect people who are adept at fundraising, with no experience in actual governance, then cross our fingers and hope for the best. The only shot we have of maintaining (gasp, improving) our government and governance is to elect members of Congress who can play the long-game.
If you are dissatisfied with your federal government, remember that its wheels grind in Congress. For the sake of Americans’ long-term health and standing in the world, we have to return to long-term planning. A good start would be to fire the 232 members of Congress who thought the CFPB was going to be too big for its britches. Practically all of them are running for re-election, including Glenn Thompson.
Kerith Strano Taylor is the Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District.