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A Consumer Financial Protection Bureau appointee is raising a few eyebrows after receiving a post in the bureau's enforcement segment. At the same time, consumer groups see the selection as the promotion of diverse viewpoints.
Prominent law professor Christopher Peterson, a well-known critic of the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems and of consumer lenders, is joining the CFPB as senior counsel, the CFPB confirmed Wednesday.
Alan Kaplinsky, a lawyer with Ballard Spahr, was the first to mention the appointment on the JDSupra website after hearing Peterson speak at a conference in Chicago last week.
Peterson is an associate dean for academic affairs and a law professor at S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah.
Kaplinsky told HousingWire the law professor is taking a leave of absence to assist the CFPB in his new role.
Kaplinsky describes the appointment as "controversial" since Peterson has long been a harsh critic of not only MERS, but of payday and consumer lenders.
"It certainly raised my eyebrows," Kaplinsky said. "I would consider it a controversial appointment to name somebody who has been such a harsh critic and so one-sided on his view. It makes you wonder how he can make that switch from being a critic of MERS, and not only MERS, but many other aspects of the consumer finance industry."
On the other hand, consumer advocates see the appointment as reflective of a CFPB that is trying to include diverse viewpoints within its ranks.
"In the past, we have been very concerned about the issue of regulatory capture in which there have been only industry people involved in oversight," said Tom Feltner, vice president of the Woodstock Institute, where he focuses on consumer finance. While Feltner is not familiar with the Peterson appointment, he supports the CFPB's general staffing strategy so far.
"The CFPB has been careful and thoughtful in how they have gone about filling these positions," Feltner said. "It is important for an agency that is very consumer focused to value different viewpoints and look for thought leaders in other fields to make sure there is a level playing field for consumers in the financial services arena," Feltner added.
Feltner said public policy groups on many occasions questioned whether consumer agencies have been weakened by a concentration of industry influence over the segment.
"Having a single agency that has staff from a variety of viewpoints – both industry and consumer – is going to ultimately result in a level playing field," Feltner said.
Kaplinsky said the goal should be to ensure all appointees are impartial.
He wrote on his web posting: "This appointment manifests the Bureau’s willingness to appoint senior staff members who have staked out strong positions on the merits of highly contentious issues the Bureau will be facing. Hopefully, Professor Peterson will take seriously the importance of treating all parties fairly and will be able to surmount the appearance of partiality exemplified by his appointment."
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