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May 3, 2011

Public Citizen Calls on Chair of House Banking Subcommittee to Disclose Ties to Wells Fargo

Husband of U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito Joins Wells Fargo After Working at United Bank; Rep. Capito Fails to Disclose 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.) opens a markup Wednesday on measures to protect bank profits and reduce the powers of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, she must disclose full details about her family’s income from businesses related to this legislation, Public Citizen said today in a letter to the lawmaker. Capito is chair of the House Committee on Financial Services Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit.

Charles Capito, Rep. Capito’s husband, has just joined Wells Fargo Advisors as a manager of several offices.

“Details of how his position will be affected by the actions of his wife, who chairs an important subcommittee, are not entirely clear,” said Bartlett Naylor, financial policy advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “At the very least, we ask Chairman Capito to disclose her husband’s new position at one of the nation’s largest banks at the beginning of tomorrow’s markup.”

Added David Arkush, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, “The public has the right to know that a bill Capito has sponsored is considered a key legislative goal of the bank that just hired her husband. As we learn more, we may revise our recommendations on how best Chairman Capito can manage conflicts of interest.”

The “long biography” on Rep. Capito’s website makes no mention of her husband’s profession or employer. Staff from Rep. Capito’s Washington, D.C., office did not return calls from Public Citizen. A representative from the CEO’s office of United Bank, Mr. Capito’s former employer, declined to name Mr. Capito’s new employer. 

On May 4, the subcommittee that Capito chairs will vote on a package of bills aimed at defanging the newly approved Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). H.R. 1121 would burden the new agency with a commission rather than a single director, while H.R. 1315 would strengthen other regulators’ powers to veto the CFPB’s rules. A third bill, not yet assigned a number, would postpone the July 21, 2011, transfer of functions from other agencies to the CFPB if the new agency lacks a director by then. Public Citizen opposes all these bills.

Capito also is the original sponsor of H.R. 1081, the “Consumer Payment System Protection Act,” which aims to sustain swipe fees for banks when consumers use their debit cards. The swipe fee, hidden from a consumer, is a charge that the retailer must send to the bank sponsoring the debit card. In its just-released annual report, Wells Fargo Chairman and CEO John G. Stumpf takes special aim at the swipe fee issue: “The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act may change the landscape of financial services more than any other law in my three-decade career in the industry. ... Its 240 rules will affect checking accounts, debit cards, credit cards, home loans, and brokerage accounts. One example: a reduction of 80 percent or more, scheduled to take effect in July 2011, in the fee banks charge retailers when customers use their debit cards at the cash register. Government price controls such as this make no sense. They distort our market-based, free-enterprise economy. “

On May 2, the Charleston Daily Mail reported that Charles Capito had “joined Wells Fargo Advisors as manager of the company's offices in Charleston, Huntington, Parkersburg and Beckley. … Capito heads a staff that includes almost 30 registered advisers.”

In this position, Mr. Capito is unlikely to be directly affected by the legislation that his spouse is sponsoring. But Wells Fargo claims to be the second-largest bank for consumer deposits in the United States and the second-largest issuer of debit cards. Its fee income from such sources as swipe fees is the highest as a percentage of assets among the largest banks in the United States.


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