When former President Obama, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) by his side, nominated Richard Cordray to take over the newly formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he famously remarked: “We can’t let politics stand in the way of doing the right thing in Washington.”
But has Richard Cordray lived up to those lofty words?
That is one of the questions raised by former President Obama’s trip to Ohio on Thursday to campaign on behalf of his former administration member, who is now the Democrat nominee for governor.
Obama headlined a rally in Cleveland Thursday afternoon, which was attended by a number of Democrat political candidates, including Cordray.
“The entire program was an exercise in rallying the base and getting Cordray next to the president,” Cleveland.com reported.
The Republican National Committee was quick to highlight another problem Obama’s appearance posed for Cordray in a statement released late Thursday.
“2016 is over, but President Obama continues to dismiss the millions of voters across Ohio who rejected a continuation of his policies in favor of President Trump’s plan for historic tax cuts, new jobs and soaring economic growth,” Mandi Merrit, Ohio Communications Director for the RNC said in the statement.
“Richard Cordray – Obama’s former regulator-in-chief – would just be more of the same of the outdated Obama-era policies that hurt Ohio families. Ohioans rejected the Democrats’ message of resist and obstruct in 2016, and they’ll reject it again in November,” Merritt added.
With regards to honoring that promise to take politics out of the CFPB, five congressional hearings into the agency’s abuse of its own employees under Cordray’s leadership suggests that he failed to do so.
As reported last month by The Ohio Star, the CFPB under Cordray’s watch “was hit with an unprecedented number of complaints under Cordray’s watch, including alleged discrimination against women, blacks, older workers, immigrants and gays.”
As for letting “politics stand in the way,” history will be the judge.
Republicans blocked Cordray’s nomination on grounds that the structure of the CFPB, as developed by Warren, was ill-advised and possibly unconsitutional (grounds that now seem all the more legitimate since some Democrats are singing the same tune now that a Republican is running the office with nearly zero checks on power), but Obama installed Cordray anyway on a recess appointment that broke with prior precedent on how recess appointments are used.
And who can forget the overtly political way in which Cordray quit his job at the CFPB?
He left this important post to run for political office and tried (and failed) to use some political maneuvering to ensure that a liberal kept to job of CFPB director. On the day he quit, Cordray tried to name his chief of staff as CFPB deputy director so she could serve as acting director. Ultimately, the courts saw through this plan.
Then comes the issue of Cordray’s appearance of giving sweetheart deals to his political allies at taxpayers’ expense.
According to a report by the Associated Press, an advertising and media firm that has been doing political work for Cordray’s campaign received tens of millions in taxpayer funds from the federal agency Cordray headed between 2013 and 2018. That firm was Washington, D.C.-based GMMB Inc.
The estimated value of GMMB’s contract with Cordray’s CFPB was originally $11.5 million but eventually soared to $43.8 million. An Inspector General’s report concluded the agency “could have better managed the contract” and urged “stronger controls” be put in place.
The Republican Governor’s Association issued a statement that Cordray’s continued use of GMMB for his gubernatorial campaign raises ethical questions and further shows that he can’t be trusted to lead Ohio.
GMMB was the lead advertising agency for Barack Obama’s successful presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012.
“The whole thing is peculiar,” Matthew Henderson, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, an Ohio Republican who questioned the contract during a hearing in April, told the AP. ‘Why was former director Cordray spending so much on a PR firm he would eventually hire to run his campaign for governor? And why was a government agency that was created to protect consumers and prosecute fraud spending a higher percentage on PR than a car brand like Chevy?’
Cordray’s successor at CFPB, former congressman Mick Mulvaney who was appointed by President Donald Trump, said during the April hearing he planned to cancel the contract with GMMB.
GMMB has served not just Obama but many other Democrat-aligned clients, including the pro-abortion lobby Emily’s List, the successful 2012 election campaign for Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), the Democratic Governors Association, the League of Conservation Voters and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, according to its website. It also did government work pitching the benefits of Obamacare.
Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio, a nonpartisan watchdog group, told AP the Cordray campaign may have looked at GMMB’s work for Obama and felt it was a good fit – but such relationships should still be approached with caution.
“The problem is, of course, that elections now are so closely tied to governing that it makes voters concerned because everything’s so embedded and intertwined,” she said. “It at least deserves a conversation.”
DeWine’s campaign spokeswoman, Brittany Warner, said the relationship “presents a major trust issue with voters.”
“Not only was Director Cordray’s $43 million advertising budget a total waste of public funds, but its deeply concerning that these public funds were directed to a political firm that is helping to run his campaign,” she said.
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Anthony Accardi is a writer and reporter for The Ohio Star.