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Operation Choke Point: The CFPB Is Now in Charge

I suggested at TheBlaze some weeks ago that even as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation was stepping back from its involvement in Operation Choke Point, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was entering the fray. This now appears to be confirmed, as American Banker reports:

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has filed a massive lawsuit against more than a dozen debt collectors, payment processors and related entities that the agency said failed to stop fraudulent collection tactics…

But the potentially groundbreaking part of the case is that the CFPB also sued several payment processors, including worldwide processor Global Payments and its contracted parties, because the agency said they "should have known" about the alleged violations.

The case is one of the CFPB's largest to date that pursues multiple different entities, some of which were not directly involved in the harassment of consumers. In that way, it resembles the Justice Department's controversial "Operation Choke Point," observers said.

Operation Choke Point operates under the purported principle that if increase regulatory pressure, up to and including subpoenas, on the financial firms that work with suspected fraudsters, then those guilty parties will find their financial oxygen choked off. What happened, of course, was that banks and financial firms that dealt with any industries at supposed “high risk” of fraud were scared off from dealing with those industries as a class. The FDIC wisely saw the error of that approach and made it clear that this was an inappropriate approach by its regulators.

Now, however, the CFPB is treading down the same road, telling firms that they “should know” about potential fraud from the same broad sweep indicators that Choke Point depended on. Once again, whole classes of industries will be cut off from financial services. Brian Wise of the US Consumers’ Coalition pointed out the problems in a statement:

“Once [Operation Choke Point] was made public, and victims began coming forward, the Administration had to find a way to protect the program and its ability to prevent lawful industries from operating. Due to the lack of congressional oversight, and the unique funding and leadership structure of the CFPB, the Administration knows that it will make the perfect agency to carry on the legacy of Operation Choke Point. The Administration will continue to remove any obstacles in their way.

“The U.S. Consumer Coalition has been warning lawmakers and industry leaders about the plan for the CFPB to take over Operation Choke Point since the FDIC took down their list of ‘high-risk’ merchants in 2014. Now everyone can begin to see that the CFPB is the nation’s most dangerous, unaccountable, and out of control agency in the federal government.”

Brian is right. Choke Point is not over, and the CFPB is less accountable than FDIC. Two things need to happen: Congress needs to act against Choke Point and its new incarnation specifically, and it also needs to move to make the CFPB accountable to Congress, the Executive branch, and the Courts, as CEI recommended in Free to Prosper this year.