Oct. 5, 2018

In Light of Racist Writings, Senior CFPB Official Should Not Lead CFPB Anti-Discrimination Office

A Racist Has No Place at the CFPB, 26 Groups Say in Letter to Agency

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A senior official at the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) should not continue to lead the agency’s antidiscrimination office due to his use of racist language and out-of-the mainstream views, Public Citizen and 25 consumer and civil rights organizations said in a letter (PDF.)

The Washington Post and The New York Times have reported on writings by Eric Blankenstein, the agency’s policy director for Supervision, Enforcement, and Fair Lending, that questioned whether use of the “N-word” is racist, raised doubts about the motivations of someone using a racial slur, questioned hate crimes as hoaxes, espoused patently incorrect views about hate crime laws and claimed that “birther” conspiracy theories about President Barrack Obama had nothing to do with racism. Some of the groups on the letter include The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., Americans for Financial Reform and Center for Responsible Lending.

The letter also called on acting CFPB director Mick Mulvaney to halt the reorganization of the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity, which Blankenstein oversees. That office was created by the financial reform law commonly known as Dodd-Frank to promote fair, equitable and nondiscriminatory access to credit for all consumers. Under Mulvaney and Blankenstein, the office has been reorganized and stripped of its enforcement powers to focus only on education and outreach.

“We are appalled that you are attempting to strip the Office of Fair Lending of its ability to enforce long-established laws against discrimination, and that you would entrust what would be left of the office to someone who has such profound difficulty recognizing when discrimination has actually taken place,” the groups said.

At least three senior CFPB officials have also expressed their concerns at Blankenstein’s comments, and American Banker reported that these sentiments are “shared by the entire enforcement division of roughly 100 attorneys.” In addition, two U.S. senators have called on Blankenstein to resign.

“We have yet another vile development from the Trump administration,” said Remington A. Gregg, counsel for civil justice and consumer rights at Public Citizen. “A man who has defended the use of the ‘N-word’ in communications, questions hate crimes as hoaxes and has a generally bonkers view of hate crime laws shouldn’t be in charge of protecting consumers against discrimination.”

With pressure mounting for Blankenstein to resign, and given another chance to renounce his prior writings, Blankenstein expressed regret but noted only that the “tone” and “framing” of some of his statements reflected poor judgment.

“It is true that the tone of his prior writings reflected poor judgment. But more serious are the underlying substantive views expressed, which Blankenstein again failed to reject or apologize for, and which are plainly disqualifying for a consumer protection official,” the groups added.

“Whatever one’s views about regulation and enforcement, there should be no question that the views espoused by Blankenstein have no place in America, no place in the halls of power and absolutely no place in the leadership of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,” Gregg said. “Mr. Blankenstein should have no role in leading the bureau office that combats discrimination against consumers.”

###