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The results are in: Party control of the U.S. House of Representatives will change for the third time in 12 years, leaving legions of pundits to speculate about what happens next. Prospects for a fundamental change in the way Congress and Washington operate are dim, particularly given that the U.S. Senate remains under Republican control. With new legislation most likely dead on arrival due to the political stalemate on Capitol Hill, the Democrats’ most reliable opportunity to exert their will is almost certainly through congressional oversight and investigations. The last time the Democrats controlled the House during a Republican presidency, following the 2006 midterms, Rep. Henry Waxman remarked that Congress’s oversight powers are “just as important, if not more important than legislation.”
While it is tempting to dismiss congressional oversight, and the attendant theatrical hearings and testimony as nothing but sound and fury, the reality for companies, executives, and others under the microscope is far less anodyne. Lack of preparation and ill-conceived strategy in responding to congressional investigations heightens the prospect of reputational harm that, unchecked, will frustrate business goals, damage shareholders, and derail — or end — careers.
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Click here to read the full special alert.
Please join us for a Dec. 5 webcast that will delve deeper into these topics and offer some thoughts on navigating the coming tide of congressional investigations. If you have questions about congressional investigations or other related issues, please visit our Congressional Investigations practice page, or contact a Buckley Sandler attorney with whom you have worked in the past.
On August 17, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO) released a report detailing his findings from an investigation into the small business lending practices of fintech companies, concluding that the algorithms used in the application process may not reduce the risk of discrimination. The report notes that one company disclosed utilized a third-party fair lending consulting firm to assist in preventing discrimination, but that some survey responses “lacked key information or were willfully vague” about how the algorithms help avoid income-based and racial bias. The report cites to other criticisms of small business lending in the fintech industry, including (i) the use of forced arbitration clauses; and (ii) utilizing personal credit scores to establish a business’ credit worthiness. In contrast, the report emphasizes that fintech lending “can be potentially advantageous for small businesses looking to get a leg up in a competitive market” and that fintech companies often serve markets traditionally ignored by banks. The report concludes with a list of best practices and principles for fintech companies that will lend to small businesses, such as (i) registering with the CFPB’s complaint database; (ii) replicating TILA disclosures required for consumers; and (iii) securing third party fair-lending audits.
On July 26, the Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, Andrew Smith, testified before subcommittees of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform regarding the FTC’s program to combat consumer fraud. The prepared testimony discusses the FTC’s anti-fraud program and highlights the agency’s enforcement actions against illicit companies that pose as government agents, such as the IRS, to convince consumers and small businesses to send them money. The FTC touts the steps taken to spur development of technological solutions to unlawful robocalls, including call-blocking and call-filtering products. The testimony also focuses on the FTC’s efforts to curb payment processors from assisting fraudulent actors in violation of the FTC Act. The FTC notes that the Commission has brought 25 actions against payment processors that failed to comply with requirements to ensure their systems were not being used to process fraudulent merchant transactions. The FTC emphasized that while the “overwhelming majority” of payment processors abide by the law, when certain processors do not, they cause “significant economic harm to consumers and legitimate businesses.”
On July 25, the House passed a bill by a vote of 366 - 52 to extend the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) through November 30. The “National Flood Insurance Program Extension Act of 2018” (S. 1182) is a short-term fix to extend coverage for lenders and borrowers during the upcoming hurricane season. As previously covered in InfoBytes, last November the House passed H.R. 2874, which would amend and reauthorize the NFIP through fiscal year 2022; however, the Senate Banking Committee has yet to act on the measure. The Senate must now pass S. 1182 to ensure the NFIP does not expire at the end of July.
House passes appropriations bill that includes several financial services provisions, brings CFPB into the appropriations process
On July 19, the House passed H.R. 6147, the “Interior, Environment, Financial Services, and General Government Appropriations Act, 2019” by a vote of 217 to 199. Under the appropriations bill, the CFPB would be brought into the appropriations process, and a change to Dodd-Frank would strike the “for-cause” provision on the president’s authority to remove the director, which has been the subject of significant litigation. (See here for continuing InfoBytes coverage on legal challenges to the CFPB’s constitutionality.) Several other financial services provisions would, among other things, (i) amend the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council Act of 1978 to create an independent examination review director to evaluate bank examination procedures to ensure consistency; (ii) authorize the Federal Reserve to make Volcker Rule exemption determinations and issue and amend rules under Section 13 of the Banking Holding Company Act; (iii) allow the appropriate federal banking agencies to make process improvements for living will submissions; (iv) amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to allow the furnishing of positive credit reporting related to a consumer’s performance when making payments under a lease agreement with respect to a dwelling or pursuant to a contract for utility or telecommunications services; and (v) require the Comptroller General of the United States to submit a report on the impact of furnishing consumer information, pursuant to the amendments of the FCRA, to Congress no later than two years after the date of the enactment of this Act. As previously covered in InfoBytes, a similar measure concerning the furnishing of consumer data was also introduced as part of S. 488, which passed the House on July 17 as part of a larger package of securities and banking bills. H.R. 6147 now heads to the Senate.
House passes bipartisan package of securities and banking bills focusing on capital market regulations
On July 17, the House passed S. 488, the “JOBS and Investor Confidence Act of 2018” (Act) by a vote of 406 to 4. The package of 32 securities and banking bills now comprises Senate bill S. 488, which previously contained an amendment to the Securities Act Rule 230.701(e) and was included as part of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act S.2155/P.L. 115-174. The Act focuses on capital market regulations and contains many capital formation provisions designed to, among other things, (i) expand access for smaller companies attempting to raise capital; (ii) reduce regulation for smaller companies such as providing federal stress test relief for nonbanks; (iii) revise crowdfunding provisions to allow for crowdfunding vehicles and the registration of crowdfunding vehicle advisers; (iv) exempt low-revenue issuers from Sarbanes-Oxley Act Section 404; (v) grant banks safe harbor when they keep open certain accounts and transactions at the request of law enforcement; and (vi) clarify various rules, review current securities laws for inefficiencies, and establish additional procedures focusing on virtual currency and money laundering efforts. Additional changes would amend a section of the Exchange Act governing SEC registration of individuals acting as brokers or dealers. The Fair Credit Reporting Act would also be amended to permit entities—including HUD—the ability to furnish data to consumer reporting agencies regarding an individual’s history of on-time payments with respect to a lease, or contracts for utilities and telecommunications services, provided the information about a consumer's usage of the service relates to payment by the consumer for such service or other terms of the provision of that service. S. 488 would also allow certain non-profits conducting charitable mortgage loan transactions to use forms required under the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure Rule, and require the director of the CFPB to issue such regulations as may be necessary to implement those amendments. S. 488 now returns to the Senate for further action.
On June 25, the House passed H.R. 435, the “The Credit Access and Inclusion Act of 2017.” The bill would amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act to include a section allowing a person or the Department of Housing and Urban Development to furnish information to credit reporting agencies relating to the payment performance of a residential lease agreement, contract for a utility, or contract for a telecommunications service. The bill does not allow an energy utility to furnish information related to the usage of utility services or information related to an outstanding consumer balance if the consumer has entered into a payment plan and is meeting the obligations of the payment plan. Civil liability for violations of the Consumer Credit Protection Act do not apply to violations of the bill.
On May 24, President Trump signed the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (S. 2155) (the bill) — which modifies provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act and eases certain regulations on certain smaller banks and credit unions. Upon signing, the White House released a statement quoting the president, “[c]ommunity banks are the backbone of small business in America. We are going to preserve our community banks.”
The House, on May 22, passed the bipartisan regulatory reform bill by a vote of 258-159. The bill was crafted by Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho and passed by the Senate in March. The House passed the bill without any changes to the Senate version, even though House Financial Services Chairman, Jeb Hensarling, originally pushed for additional reform provisions to be included. Specifically, the bill does not include certain provisions that were part of Hensarling’s Financial CHOICE Act, such as (i) a complete repeal of the Volker Rule; (ii) subjecting the CFPB to the Congressional appropriations process and restructure the agency with a bipartisan commission; and (iii) reducing the Financial Stability Oversight Council’s (FSOC) authority to designate nonbank financial institutions as Systemically Important Financial Institutions (SIFIs).
In response to the bill’s passage, the OCC’s Comptroller of Currency, Joseph Otting, issued a statement supporting the regulatory changes and congratulating the House, “[t]his bill restores an important balance to the business of banking by providing meaningful reductions of regulatory burden for community and regional institutions while safeguarding the financial system and protecting consumers.” Additionally, acting Director of the CFPB, Mick Mulvaney, applauded Congress, noting that the reforms to mortgage lending were “long overdue” and called the bill “the most significant financial reform legislation in recent history.”
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the highlights of the bill include:
- Improving consumer access to mortgage credit. The bill’s provisions state, among other things, that: (i) banks with less than $10 billion in assets are exempt from ability-to-repay requirements for certain qualified residential mortgage loans held in portfolio; (ii) appraisals will not be required for certain transactions valued at less than $400,000 in rural areas; (iii) banks and credit unions that originate fewer than 500 open-end and 500 closed-end mortgages are exempt from HMDA’s expanded data disclosures (the provision would not apply to nonbanks and would not exempt institutions from HMDA reporting altogether); (iv) amendments to the S.A.F.E. Mortgage Licensing Act will provide registered mortgage loan originators in good standing with 120 days of transitional authority to originate loans when moving from a federal depository institution to a non-depository institution or across state lines; and (v) the CFPB must clarify how TRID applies to mortgage assumption transactions and construction-to-permanent home loans, as well as outline certain liabilities related to model disclosure use.
- Regulatory relief for certain institutions. Among other things, the bill simplifies capital calculations and exempts community banks from Section 13 of the Bank Holding Company Act if they have less than $10 billion in total consolidated assets. The bill also states that banks with less than $10 billion in assets, and total trading assets and liabilities not exceeding more than five percent of their total assets, are exempt from Volcker Rule restrictions on trading with their own capital.
- Protections for consumers. Included in the bill are protections for veterans and active-duty military personnel such as: (i) permanently extending from nine months to one year the protection that shields military personnel from foreclosure proceedings after they leave active military service; and (ii) adding a requirement that credit reporting agencies provide free credit monitoring services and credit freezes to active-duty military personnel. The bill also addresses the creation of an identity theft protection database. Additionally, the bill instructs the CFPB to draft federal rules for the underwriting of Property Assessed Clean Energy loans (PACE loans), which would be subject to the TILA ability-to-repay requirement.
- Changes for bank holding companies. Among other things, the bill raises the threshold for automatic designation as a SIFI from $50 billion in assets to $250 billion. The bill also subjects banks with $100 billion to $250 billion in total consolidated assets to periodic stress tests and exempts from stress test requirements entirely banks with under $100 billion in assets. Additionally, certain banks would be allowed to exclude assets they hold in custody for others—provided the assets are held at a central bank—when computing the amount such banks must hold in reserves.
- Protections for student borrowers. The bill’s provisions include measures to prevent creditors from declaring an automatic default or accelerating the debt against a borrower on the sole basis of bankruptcy or cosigner death, and would require the removal of private student loans on credit reports after a default if the borrower completes a loan rehabilitation program and brings payments current.
Each provision of the bill will take effect at various intervals from the date of enactment up to 18 months after.
Trump signs legislation repealing CFPB auto guidance, Mulvaney praises action; CFPB to reexamine ECOA requirements
On May 21, President Trump signed resolution S.J. Res. 57, which repeals CFPB Bulletin 2013-02 on indirect auto lending and compliance with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA). The president’s signature completes the disapproval process under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which began after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a letter in December 2017 to Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa) stating that “the Bulletin is a general statement of policy and a rule” that is subject to override under the CRA. The Senate passed the disapproval measure in April and the House approved it in the beginning of May. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.)
The repeal responds to concerns that the bulletin improperly attempted to regulate auto dealers, which the Dodd-Frank Act excluded from the Bureau’s authority. In a statement after the president’s signing, CFPB acting Director Mick Mulvaney praised the action and thanked the president and Congress for “reaffirming that the Bureau lacks the power to act outside of federal statutes.” He also stated that the repeal “clarifies that a number of Bureau guidance documents may be considered rules for purposes of the CRA, and therefore the Bureau must submit them for review by Congress. The Bureau welcomes such review, and will confer with Congressional staff and federal agency partners to identify appropriate documents for submission.”
Additionally, acting Director Mulvaney announced plans to reexamine the requirements of ECOA, “[g]iven a recent Supreme Court decision distinguishing between antidiscrimination statutes that refer to the consequences of actions and those that refer only to the intent of the actor.” Although the decision is not identified, it is likely the June 2015 Supreme Court decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., which concluded that disparate impact claims are permitted under the Fair Housing Act but acknowledged some limitations on its application. (Covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert.)
On May 8, the House voted to repeal, under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), CFPB Bulletin 2013-02 (Bulletin) on indirect auto lending and compliance with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Senate approved the resolution on April 18 and the White House issued a Statement of Administrative Policy supporting the Senate resolution; it is expected that President Trump will sign the measure soon.
If the measure is successful, this would be the first time that Congress has used the CRA to repeal a regulatory issuance outside the statute’s general 60-day period. In December 2017, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a letter to Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa) stating that “the Bulletin is a general statement of policy and a rule” that is subject to override under the CRA, which allowed for the Senate to introduce the resolution measure years after the CFPB released the Bulletin.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Trends in regulatory enforcement" at the American Bar Association Banking Law Committee Meeting
- Jessica L. Pollet to discuss "Your career is impacting your life..." at the Ark Group Women Legal Conference
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss "Successors in interest updates" at the Mortgage Bankers Association National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "Keeping your head above water in flood insurance compliance" at the Mortgage Bankers Association National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo