The head of the House Financial Services Committee is calling on Consumer Finance Protection Bureau director Richard Cordray to open up the its four advisory council meetings to the public and press.
“Instead of operating behind closed doors, it’s time for the CFPB to live up to its oft-stated commitment to transparency and openness. In the interest of true, genuine transparency and open government, Director Cordray can and should use ‘Sunshine Week’ to take immediate steps that bring the CFPB into the sunlight,” U.S. Rep. and HFSC Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas said in a written and video statement.
Hensarling’s call reflects a September 2013 recommendation in a report from the Bipartisan Policy Center, which can be viewed here.
Calls and emails to the CFPB for a response to Hensarling were not returned as of publication.
Four advisory groups created by the CFPB — the Community Bank Advisory Council, the Credit Union Advisory Council, the Academic Research Council, and the Consumer Advisory Board – conduct a large proportion of their business behind closed doors, barring the press, public and lawmakers. The councils are comprised of industry executives, academic leaders and consumer advocates.
“What goes on at these meetings?” asked Congressman Sean Duffy (R-WI), a member of the Financial Services Committee who requested to attend the Consumer Advisory Board’s February meeting. “If the CFPB is as committed to transparency as it claims, then why was I denied entry when I asked to attend?”
Cordray has said the meetings are closed to the public because the Federal Advisory Committee Act, a sunshine law passed in 1972, does not apply to the Bureau.
“Why deny the public the right to observe these meetings?” Congressman Robert Pittenger (R-NC) asked Director Cordray at a January hearing.
Cordray replied that the advisory group meetings are closed to the public so, “we can speak candidly about matters that are not yet public that the Bureau is working on, including things like enforcement actions and the like.”
That response is “deeply troubling,” Chairman Hensarling wrote in a Feb. 4 letter to Cordray. “Confidential information related to pending investigations or enforcement actions is potentially market moving and could be used for financial gain. Consequently, I am concerned that the Bureau would release confidential information to persons who do not work for the Bureau and could be competitors or future legal adversaries of the party subject to the enforcement action.”
Hensarling's statement said that in addition to closing the meetings to the public, the CFPB instructs its employees to keep details about agency events on their work calendars to a minimum in order to shield information about their activities from the press and public.