‘Bipartisan’ Board Donates to Dems Overwhelmingly

CFPB packed with staunch Democrats, few Republicans

Richard Cordray, President Obama / AP
September 27, 2012

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) Consumer Advisory Board, which meets Thursday for the first time in St. Louis, contains numerous Democratic donors, including a member of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

The CFPB—a controversial organization with massive oversight powers over financial institutions and little accountability that was created as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation—announced the members of the board on Sept. 12. CFPB director Richard Cordray said in a statement, "This group of experts truly represents the interests of the diverse people and communities we serve."

The board is not nearly as politically diverse as Cordray implies, however: 10 members on the 25-member panel have donated to Democratic candidates or Democratic organizations, records show. Only two members have donated to Republicans. The first has only donated money once—a donation to Mitt Romney in March of this year. The second has given to Democrats and to one Republican—the 2010 Republican primary challenger for the House seat held by Rep. Todd Akin (R., Mo.). This $250 donation comprises just 6 percent of the member's total political donations.

John Berlau, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), said that the political imbalance "underscores the fact that there is no accountability of the CFPB to Congress." He added, "You would think that as a courtesy, they would have asked for Congress’s input," although the imbalance implies that the Bureau has not.

The committee also includes a member of the Democratic National Committee, Robert Stoll, who is a lawyer in Portland, Ore. In addition to being a member of the national committee, Stoll is also the vice-chair of the Oregon Democratic Party, and his biography on his firm’s website says he has been "the general chair or finance chair for many Democratic presidential, gubernatorial, U.S. Senate, and congressional races in Oregon."

All together, members of the board have donated more than $80,000 to Democratic political candidates and committees since 2007. Republican candidates have received $1,250.

Such donations resemble labor unions’ political giving. According to the Wall Street Journal, corporate PACs gave 55 percent of their money to Democrats in 2008, while labor unions gave 92 percent to Democrats. In comparison, among the members of the advisory board, over 98 percent of political donations went to Democratic candidates or to Democratic organizations.

Stoll is by far the largest donor, having given more than $54,000 to various Democratic candidates and committees, but he is not alone in contributing large sums: among Democratic donors on the board, the median donation to Democratic causes is $3,000.

Stoll has given $10,000 on three separate occasions: once to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, once to the Democratic Party of Oregon, and once to the Democratic National Committee (listed as the DNC Services Corp). He has also given $5,000 to President Barack Obama this cycle, after giving $2,300 to him last cycle.

Stoll made his money suing financial institutions; among other highlights, his biography lists a "$88 million jury verdict in nationwide securities fraud class action against investment banking subsidiary of international insurance company" and a "Pretrial settlement of $28 million against national bank sued for securities fraud."

Stoll did not return a call for comment.

Ellen Seidman is the second largest donor on the advisory board. She has given $13,950 to Democratic candidates, committees, and affiliated organizations. During the 2008 Democratic primary cycle, Seidman gave $6,900 to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, including $2,300 in March of 2007. She has also given $1,500 to EMILY’s List, which is "dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women to office" with the goal of building "a lasting progressive majority."

The Free Beacon could not reach Seidman for comment.

The political bent is not just limited to political donors. Berlau pointed out that Adam Levitin, a law professor at Georgetown, is a "highly partisan liberal academic." Levitin’s Georgetown website says that he wrote a paper on "the Public Option in Housing Finance." Berlau could not point to a comparable conservative academic to balance Levitin on the panel.

This panel gives "Cordray the illusion of support for doing what he already wants to do—to pursue the liberal, big-government policy he already wants to pursue," Berlau said.

The only pure Republican donor is Jo Ann Barefoot of Treliant Risk Advisors. She gave a one-time donation of $1,000 to Mitt Romney on March 6—Super Tuesday, when Romney appeared stuck in a tough fight with former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.

Like CFPB Director Cordray, Barefoot is from Ohio. Before she was tapped to sit on the advisory board, the media often quoted her in articles regarding the CFPB, including one where she argued that the CFPB will come to dominate the consumer financial regulatory sphere: "The Bureau will take enforcement actions that amount to guidance for the other agencies," she was quoted as saying. Barefoot could not be reached for comment.

Cordray has been pegged as a potential candidate for the Ohio gubernatorial race in 2014.

Cordray’s tenure at the helm of the CFPB has been marked by controversy. President Obama used a recess appointment to get Cordray to his post over the objections of the Senate.

Now Cordray’s Bureau is caught up in a lawsuit against the Dodd-Frank financial reform act. The plaintiffs, including the CEI, contend that the CFPB is unconstitutional because it is "not subject to sufficient checks by other branches of government." They also argue that Cordray’s appointment was unconstitutional.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau did not return a request for comment.