By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: November 16, 2015
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the federal agency created after the 2008 crash to protect the little guy from Wall Street predators, which has done a top-flight job of it, was portrayed as a commie organization in a advertisement that ran repeatedly during the Republican Presidential debate on November 10. To enhance the communist theme of the ad (see full video below) giant banners of CFPB Director, Richard Cordray, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, who pushed for the creation of the agency, hang on the wall in a nod to Soviet dictators.
The advertisement is grossly misleading, overtly suggesting that the job of the CFPB is to deny car loans and mortgages to regular folks seeking credit. The agency, in fact, has absolutely nothing to do with approving credit applications. Its job is to root out and punish financial institutions that are ripping off customers. For example, in July of this year, the serial looter, Citigroup, was ordered by the CFPB to reimburse an estimated $700 million to 7 million of its credit card customers for deceptive marketing and billing for services that were never provided. The agency has also recently gone after student loan and mortgage servicers for ripping off borrowers with excessive fees and unwarranted interest payments.
The CFPB’s main threat to Wall Street’s padding of its bottom line through ever-creative frauds against millions of small borrowers is that the CFPB is both educating consumers and making it easy for them to file a complaint on how they’ve been fleeced. Even more dangerous, the CFPB is actively inviting whistleblowers inside financial corporations to blow the whistle directly to them on the lawbreaking.
There is one more reason that a much broader swath of corporate America is fighting the CFPB than just financial firms. According to the New York Times, a corporate front group that funded the ad has admitted that keeping private justice systems alive for corporations, known as mandatory or forced arbitration, is one reason behind the $500,000 outlay for the ad. The Times notes:
“Its sponsor wants to rein in the agency in part because of its efforts to restrict arbitration — the widespread practice in corporate America of requiring customers and employees to resolve disputes not in the courts, but in private proceedings with neither judge nor jury. In fact, arbitration is one of the reasons the ad’s sponsor, American Action Network, wanted to blast the agency with the $500,000 campaign, the group said.”
The American Action Network, which launched the $500,000 ad campaign, has the fingerprints of all the likely suspects: Koch money, Big Pharma, Big Oil, and Wall Street operatives. Its tactics look like a replay of how a former Koch-funded front group, Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), targeted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Wall Street On Parade, using a data trove available at the Center for Responsive Politics, drilled down to the source of some of the money funding the American Action Network in the past. (Most of its donors are allowed to hide in the dark under current law.) A Big Pharma group called Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America (PRMA) has given over $6 million to the American Action Network. PRMA donors in 2012 included Merck, Amgen, Pfizer, Abbott Labs, Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca.
Donors Trust, a group we previously connected to Charles Koch, is another funder of American Action Network. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Donors Trust has given at least $150,000 to American Action Network. As we reported in 2010, a sister front group to Donors Trust, Donors Capital Fund, financed a $17 million campaign that unleashed 28 million race-baiting, fear-mongering DVDs through 100 newspaper and magazine inserts just seven weeks before the 2008 Presidential election which brought Barack Obama to the White House.
We reported at the time:
“There are shades of Charles Koch all over Donors Capital and Donors Trust. Two grantees receiving repeat and sizeable grants from Donors Capital are favorites of the Koch foundations: George Mason University Foundation and Institute for Humane Studies. Another tie is Claire Kittle. A project of Donor’s Trust is Talent Market.org, a headhunter for staffing nonprofits with the ‘right’ people. Ms. Kittle serves as Talent Market’s Executive Director and was the former Program Officer for Leadership and Talent Development at the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. Then there is Whitney Ball, President of both Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust. Ms. Ball was one of the elite guests at the invitation-only secret Aspen bash thrown by Charles Koch in June of this year, as reported by ThinkProgress.org. Also on the guest list for the Koch bash was Stephen Moore, a member of the Editorial Board at the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Moore is a Director at Donors Capital Fund. Rounding out the ties that bind is Lauren Vander Heyden, who serves as Client Services Coordinator at Donors Trust. Ms. Vander Heyden previously worked as grants coordinator and policy analyst at the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.
“Legal counsel for the Kochs has declined to respond to two emails with a week’s lead time seeking clarification of the relationship the Kochs have to Donors Capital and Donors Trust.”
The Kochs’ involvement in corporate front groups dates back at least three decades. In 2013, the health professionals’ journal, Tobacco Control, published a detailed report on the origination of the Tea Party, dating it to the 1980s. The research was funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), a Federal Agency and titled ‘To Quarterback Behind the Scenes, Third Party Efforts’: The Tobacco Industry and the Tea Party.
The report reveals that Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), which split into Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks in 2004, “was co-founded in 1984 by David Koch, of Koch Industries, and Richard Fink, former professor of economics at George Mason University, who has worked for Koch Industries since 1990.” According to the report, “CSE supported the agendas of the tobacco and other industries, including oil, chemical, pharmaceutical and telecommunications, and was funded by them.”
Long before the modern-day Tea Party gained attention, CSE started the first online Tea Party in 2002, calling it the US Tea Party. The Tobacco Control report shows that between 1991 and 2002, Philip Morris and other tobacco companies gave CSE at least $5.3 million.
CSE was seen as an integral part of the Philip Morris strategy to thwart Federal regulation of cigarettes and second hand smoke. The study states that Philip Morris designated CSE a “Category A” organization for funding and it was assigned its own Philip Morris senior relationship manager.
Very similar to the current attack on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in 1994 and 1995, Big Tobacco launched an assault, using corporate front groups including CSE, to undermine the credibility of the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA at the time was attempting to regulate second-hand smoke.
A Philip Morris memo in late 1994 documented that CSE and other front groups were working “to define the FDA as an agency out of control and one failing to live up to its congressional mandate regarding regulation of drugs and medical devices.”
Beginning in December 1994, the memorandum stated, “these groups conducted an aggressive media campaign toward these goals, incorporating the issuance of policy papers, conducting symposia, filing petitions with FDA and taking other steps to keep the public and media focus on the agency.” CSE also developed a 15-page strategy plan with a goal of gutting the FDA’s funding while keeping negative stories circulating in the press.
The U.S. Department of Justice sued the largest tobacco companies under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) in 1999. The government charged that the tobacco companies engaged in a 40-year conspiracy to mislead the public about the dangers of smoking, distort the dangers of secondhand smoke, and target the youth market as “replacement smokers.”
On August 17, 2006, Judge Gladys Kessler of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a 1,683 page opinion. The Court found that “Cigarette smoking causes disease, suffering, and death. Despite internal recognition of this fact, defendants have publicly denied, distorted, and minimized the hazards of smoking for decades.”
Corporate front groups significantly contributed to those distortions and early deaths just as the American Action Network is today attempting to grossly distort the important work of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.