Watchdog: Accountability

CFPB advisory board riddled with questionable appointees

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Watchdog,Richard Pollock,CFPB,Accountability,Presidential Nominees

Multiple members of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Consumer Advisory Board have histories of financial losses, bankruptcies and insolvencies, the Washington Examiner has learned.

The board provides financial and consumer advice to low-income families, including how to live within one's budget, the need to increase personal savings, and the importance of building assets.

The 25-member board is exempt from the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which sets government-wide ethics standards. When Congress created the CFPB in 2011, it accepted a White House recommendation that the new federal operation be under the Federal Reserve system. The Fed is exempt from many federal regulations.

Nine of the 25 advisory board members have reported significant yearly losses in the operation of nonprofits under their management or presided over failing banking institutions.

The board's chairman, Jose Quinonez, for example, is executive director of the San Francisco-based Mission Asset Fund, which reported $314,000 in deficits in 2009 and 2010.

Board vice chairman Bill Bynum's financial losses were even more dramatic. Bynum is the CEO of the Jackson, Miss.-based Hope Enterprise Corp., which has posted posted losses totaling $8.5 million for three of the last four years.

As CEO, Bynum is paid $358,000 annually. In the Mississippi Delta, the poorest region in the country, individual incomes average about $20,000 per year, according to U.S. Census data.

Ellen Seidman, another CFPB advisory board member, served as executive vice president of the Chicago-based ShoreBank Corp., which represented the largest community bank failure in history when it closed in 2010.

When the bank was ruled insolvent in 2010, the failure cost the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. $452 million to cover depositors' losses. There were also $74 million in penalties paid by ShoreBank, which was the official Obama campaign bank in 2008.

CFPB adviser Maeve Brown also has familiarity with failing bank capital. She was the chairwoman of the board of the People's Community Partnership Federal Credit Union, which failed in 2008.

According to its final financial performance report, People's had a capital ratio half the minimum required by federal regulators. The Oakland, Calif., credit union was sold.

CFPB advisory board member Jane Thompson is also a senior adviser to the Center for Financial Services Innovation, which was once a wholly owned ShoreBank subsidiary. Last year, the center suffered a $1 million loss. The CFSI has reported losses in three of the last four years.

Nonprofits run by CFPB advisory board members Theodora Rand, Jim McCarthy, Patricia Duarte and Gary Acosta also reported multiple years of losses.

CFPB advisory board member Don Baylor was previously the New York legislative director of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).

Baylor directed $45 million in two New York ACORN political campaigns from 2001 to 2003, according to New York state records.

At least 14 states have investigated ACORN for voter fraud in recent years and the organization has been linked to a variety of scandals, including the embezzlement of $948,000 by the brother of Wade Rathke, the group's founder.

ACORN filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and closed its doors in 2010 after Congress approved legislation barring federal agencies from awarding grants or contracts to the group.

Baylor also sits on the board of the Corporation for Enterprise Development. Last September, the CFPB awarded a $1.3 million contract to the corporation.

Asked about the contract, Baylor said, "I don't have anything to say about that. I haven't had anything to do with that particular contract."

"The fact that he is serving on this advisory committee can at least create an appearance of a cozy tie between the agency and this firm," said Michael Smallberg, an investigator with the Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan government watchdog group.

While the agency says the contract was awarded with "full and open competition," the federal website USAspending.gov shows the agency only received one bid.

One week before the bureau awarded the million-dollar contract, CFPB director Richard Cordray addressed the corporation's opening plenary conference on "Asset Learning" in Washington, D.C.

CFPB also paid a fee to the corporation to run a "research forum" at the September 2012 conference. A CFPB spokeswoman declined to disclose the sum paid in the fee.

"You would hope in setting up a new agency and forming their advisory committee, they could find people beyond reproach," said POGO's Smallberg.

Similarly, Edwin Williamson, a former State Department legal adviser and government ethics official, said, "I would want somebody that had been quite successful in managing."

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