Reining in Wall Street

STANDING UP AGAINST THE BIG BANKS AND WALL STREET—For more than 20 years, Consumer Program Director Ed Mierzwinski has helped us stand up against big banks and credit card companies.

A PRO-CONSUMER FISCAL FUTURE

Consumers shouldn't have to worry that their financial institutions are ripping them off, or using tricks and schemes to squeeze money out of them.

Yet for years, federal bank regulators ignored numerous warnings of increasingly predatory mortgage practices, credit card tricks, and unfair overdraft policies used by the big Wall Street banks. They also ignored warnings of risky securities being packaged and sold to investors. In the wake of the resulting financial crisis, U.S. PIRG fought for and successfully urged passage of a strong 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

Since winning federal Wall Street reform, we've worked to defend those reforms from the industry's attempts to defang, defund or delay them. In particular, since it began work in July 2011, we've had to defend the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the first federal financial agency with just one job: protecting consumers. However, it took another two-year fight against the opponents of the CFPB to convince the Senate to confirm Bureau's director, Richard Cordray, to a full five-year term. The Senate finally confirmed Cordray in July 2012, eliminating any uncertainty over the CFPB's authority over credit bureaus, payday lenders and other non-bank firms.

The CFPB - in many ways the centerpiece of the broader 2010 Wall Street reforms - has already succeeded in protecting consumers, from students and soldiers to seniors and homeowners. Among the CFPB's successes have been its new regulation of the mortgage markets, its creation of a publicly-available consumer complaint database, and its investigations of the big credit bureaus. The CFPB has also made banks and credit card companies return nearly half a billion dollars to consumers who were treated unfairly.

Yet consumers, taxpayers and investors still face big risks in the financial marketplace. Big banks are allowed to make risky bets with our money, many financial institutions are still finding ways to unfairly squeeze money out of their customers, and financial industry practices still pose risks to the financial system. So in addition to defending the CFPB, we are working to protect investors, taxpayers and the financial system itself:

  • We're supporting a requirement called the Volcker Rule which would prevent big banks from using their “own” money, which includes depositor funds, to place risky bets.
  • We're urging the Commodity Futures Trading Commission not to allow the big banks to hide their reckless financial bets offshore the way that AIG and JP Morgan's London Whale did.
  • We're backing Securities and Exchange Commission rules to require that all public companies, including banks, publish the ratio of compensation between their CEO and their middle-level employees.

In short, we're building a financial regulatory system that guarantees that consumers and taxpayers are protected from predatory practices. And we're fighting to give consumers a seat at the table when it comes to oversight of the nation's financial system.

Issue updates

Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB complaints help recover $90 million for servicemembers | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education and the FDIC slammed student loan company Sallie Mae and a spinoff, ordering over $6 million in penalties and $90 million in compensation to servicemembers and veterans. Complaints to the CFPB's public database helped build the case. As the CFPB's director said in an important speech last week: "Each consumer’s voice counts and the chorus of many voices can change practices at these large financial companies."

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Center for Digital Democracy | Financial Reform

New Report Examines Promise and Potential Dangers of New Financial Marketplace

U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) released a comprehensive new report today focused on the realities of the new financial marketplace and the threats and opportunities its use poses to financial inclusion. The report examines the impact of digital technology, especially the unprecedented analytical and real-time actionable powers of “Big Data,” on consumer welfare. The groups immediately filed the report with the White House Big Data review headed by John Podesta, who serves as senior counselor to the President.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Center for Digital Democracy | Financial Reform

Big Data Means Big Opportunities and Big Challenges

This report examines the growing use of "Big Data" in financial decision-making, especially in a digital marketplace characterized more and more by the use of mobile phones. It explains the opportunities to use Big Data to promote financial opportunity and the threat of financial exclusion, discrimination or higher prices for some consumers if Big Data is not used properly. The report makes recommendations to advocates, industry and regulators.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

We Join FTC Event on Big Data E-Scores | Ed Mierzwinski

Companies on the Internet are tracking you with vastly powerful Big Data algorithms to determine what to sell you and for how much and what financial opportunities to offer you. Today at 10am, I join an FTC workshop on Alternative Scoring Products to debate the transparency and fairness of the system with privacy and technology experts from industry, academia and the public interest. You can attend or watch online.

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Media Hit | Financial Reform

National data-theft law still a hard sell

The data breach at Target Corp., which exposed millions of credit card numbers, has focused attention on the patchwork of state consumer notification laws and renewed a push for a single national standard. [...] ‘‘From industry’s perspective, whether you’re a bank or a merchant, you don’t want to have to notify consumers,’’ said Ed Mierzwinski, at the US Public Interest Research Group. ‘‘They want to preempt, or override, the best state laws.’’

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Senate Rolls Back Investor Protections

Statement of Edmund Mierzwinski, U.S. PIRG Consumer Program Director on Senate Passage of the JOBS Act (Excerpt) "Today, the Senate joined the House in passing the so-called JOBS Act, legislation that will roll back investor protections, leaving senior citizens and other small investors at the mercy of the next Enron collapse, the next Gordon Gecko and the next-generation boiler room operators using social media to pitch toxic investments."

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

U.S. PIRG Applauds CFPB Proposal To Regulate Biggest Credit Bureaus

“Last summer over 10,000 PIRG members submitted comments to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) urging strict regulation of credit bureaus and credit scoring firms. We applaud the CFPB for its proposal today to subject the nation’s largest credit bureaus and credit scoring firms to full scrutiny as “larger participants” (CFPB pdf) in the financial marketplace."

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Robo-Signing Settlement With Big Banks Is Important Step

Today's settlement by the U.S. and 49 state attorneys general with the 5 biggest mortgage servicers - the big banks Citibank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase, along with Ally Financial - is an important and enforceable first step toward holding the big banks accountable for not only wrecking the economy but using a variety of unfair foreclosure practices to ruin the lives of millions of Americans and, in many cases, taking their homes illegally.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

U.S. PIRG Applauds President For “Bold and Important” Recess Appointment of Richard Cordray To Head New Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

President Obama is taking a bold and important step to protect consumers from financial tricks and traps by announcing a recess appointment of his well-qualified nominee, Richard Cordray, to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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Media Hit | Financial Reform

LA Times: Richard Cordray Appointment 'Turns Lights On' at Consumer Bureau

"Congress wanted the bureau to protect consumers no matter where they shopped for financial products," said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "With a director, the public can now have confidence the consumer bureau is ready, willing and able to investigate their financial problems."

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

New book on the fight for the CFPB | Ed Mierzwinski

Two academics have published a book chronicling the PIRG-backed fight to establish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) as a centerpiece of the Wall Street reforms enacted in 2010. Their history of the largely successful efforts of the coalition Americans for Financial Reform and its work alongside Professor Elizabeth Warren has lessons for all advocates seeking to fight city hall or evil empires.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Do better Facebook friends mean a better credit score? | Ed Mierzwinski

"Big Data" has created a new front in the war on privacy. Should a prospective employer be able to "friend" you or use your Facebook password to vet you?  When, if ever, should colleges, employers and lenders be able to look at your Facebook or other social network pages to see if your friends make you a better bet to enroll, hire or grant a loan to than someone with loser friends?

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Free Cookies-Strings Attached | Ed Mierzwinski

The price consumers pay to access most online content is the tracking of their every click on the World Wide Web by data miners and ad networks. Consumer and privacy advocates are seeking to address such online tracking through Do-Not-Track regulation, which could be considered in the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee soon.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Court rejects First Amendment attack on credit bureau regulation and other financial follies | Ed Mierzwinski

In an important case joined by the government, a U.S. district judge has rejected the latest misguided industry attack on the constitutionality of regulation of credit bureaus. Meanwhile, the CFPB has released its first annual report on credit card deals with colleges. Here's a weekly summary of the latest financial follies.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Supreme Court hears case on textbook prices with implications for all secondary markets (Amazon, eBay) | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard an important case concerning whether publishers can restrict owners of books from reselling their used copies, raising massive implications not only for the prices of textbooks but also for the very existence of important secondary markets like Amazon and eBay.  U.S. PIRG joined others in urging the Supreme Court to reverse a lower court's view that consumers lose longstanding rights to resell copies of copyrighted books, if the books were made outside the US.

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