House Roll Call Vote 412 wasn’t one of those votes likely to draw much general media attention, even its title seemed designed to induce yawns: “Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection relating to “Arbitration Agreements.” Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) voted in favor of this measure on July 25th, and few noticed, much less commented. It’s a small thing, but indicative of a mindset that favors the Big Banks over the interests of American consumers.
“In May 2016, the CFPB issued a proposed rule prohibiting predispute arbitration agreements in providing consumer financial services products. This rule would prohibit mandatory predispute arbitration agreements in consumer agreements for items such as checking or savings accounts, credit cards, student loans, payday loans, automobile leases, debt management services, some payment processing services, other types of consumer loans, prepaid cards, and consumer debt collection. The rule would also prohibit predispute arbitration agreements in connection with providing a consumer report or credit score to a consumer or referring applicants to creditors to whom requests for credit may be made.” [ABA]
Translation: For “predispute” read Day in Court, as in the rule prevents a financial corporation from requiring arbitration before a person can take his or her case to court as a member of a group of consumers who have been hurt by the financial institution’s action or actions. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau explained:
“Many consumer financial products like credit cards and bank accounts have contract gotchas that generally prevent consumers from joining together to sue their bank or financial company for wrongdoing. These widely used clauses leave consumers with no choice but to seek relief on their own – usually over small amounts. With this contract gotcha, companies can sidestep the legal system, avoid accountability, and continue to pursue profitable practices that may violate the law and harm countless consumers.” (emphasis added)
And, Representative Amodei supported the legislation to disapprove of this rule which was an attempt to protect consumers from actions like the following:
The poster child of bank malfeasance, Wells Fargo’s — “admitted its employees systematically created millions of sham bank accounts in its customers’ names, and then in many cases fraudulently billed those same customers for fees and services they never agreed to. Executives of the megabank knew this was happening but did nothing. Then, they decided to blame 5,300 “rogue” employees, who were summarily fired. Now, to ward off thousands of lawsuits, the company is hiding behind binding arbitration clauses in its victims’ contracts.” [USNWR]
And, there’s this —
“Military readiness has been negatively affected by unscrupulous payday lenders who prey on military servicemembers and veterans. The victims become overly indebted thanks to exorbitant interest rates and hidden fees they don’t understand, and then find themselves unable to obtain relief thanks to forced-arbitration clauses. Because of this, the Military Coalition, which represents nearly 6 million uniformed service members, veterans and their families, has formally petitioned Congress to ban the clauses.” [USNWR]
It’s hard to imagine siding with unscrupulous bankers against the interests of enlisted personnel who are in the E6 to E9 ranks in which pay runs from $2,486.99 to $4,186.09 for a person with more than eight years service, however Representative Amodei found a way to do it. The problem became such a persistent issue for the military that in 2007 the Department of Defense started enforcing the Military Lending Act to protect its service personnel. However, pay day lenders found loopholes such that they could re-introduce their ‘products’ to members of the military. [MrktPlc] Who would support legislation designed to force members of the Armed Services to accept arbitration before they could have their day in court? Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) and his Republican cohorts in the 115th Congress.
What makes this vote particularly noticeable regarding the protection of bankers is that there are ways — at least two — to ‘prevent’ that bete noir of all Republicans, the consumer lawsuit, without pitching the baby out with the bath water.
The first way would be to make all arbitration voluntary. Companies could save time and money, and avoid publicity IF the consumer agrees. If there is no agreement then the case goes to court.
The second possible solution would be to put the arbitration on a “business pays” status. The American Bar Association offers this common sense proposal:
“The CFPB should require any consumer arbitration to be fully business-funded at no cost to the consumer. When a business faces transaction costs of nearly $2,000 per arbitration filed, repeat consumer filings will attract its attention. In addition, the CFPB could consider requiring that any consumer arbitration which results in a favorable consumer award on the merits should be awarded treble damages and attorneys’ fees. This provision would include a sort of “built in” incentivizing provision. The goal of this provision is to encourage organically what we already see occurring, increased settlement of consumer disputes. Still further, the CFPB should require that any consumer arbitration award must result in a written statement of decision, which permits other consumers to know how the arbitrator applied the law to the facts of that case. This will facilitate consumer knowledge of potential corporate overreach (and encourage more recovery), and will also help aid the consumer in arbitrator selection.”
In short, it is not necessary to go full-bore all-out in support of the banksters among us in order to prevent the unscrupulous from skinning the unwary or uninformed, but that’s what Representative Mark Amodei did on July 25, 2017.
Perhaps this may be explained by the fact that as of May 2017 Representative Amodei received $8,000 in donations from commercial banks for this election cycle, another $7,000 from credit unions, and $1,000 from finance and credit companies. Or maybe it relates to the $25,000 he’s collected from the American Bankers Association over his political career? Whatever the motivation, it’s clear that Representative Mark Amodei is placing the interests of the bankers above those of American consumers. This situation could be rectified in 2018.