Written by Tom Fitton
“There is a lack of oversight of this agency by Congress, there is a lack of interest in the problem by the media class in Washington, D.C., and there is real damage being done to the privacy of the American people.”
That’s what I said during a Boise, Idaho, press conference held this week jointly with Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch. The purpose of the event was to “sound an alarm” about suspicious and shocking activities inside the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), an agency created by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform monstrosity. The press conference was hosted by Sen. Crapo, who has shown admirable leadership on this issue from his perch as ranking minority member of the Senate Banking, Housing, Urban Affairs Committee. Also joining us at the event was Idaho State Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, and John Zarian, a private attorney who has made a cause of protecting the privacy of American’s financial data.
And what kind of suspicious and shocking activities are we talking about here?
Senator Crapo put it bluntly: “The agency is seeking to collect data about our mortgage, credit card and student loan transactions. About 80 percent of our financial transactions are being monitored and I frankly think it will soon expand to 100 percent.”
And what evidence does Senator Crapo have to support his claim? You may recall back in June, I told you about records we obtained from the CFPB, revealing that the agency has spent millions of dollars for the warrantless collection and analysis of Americans’ financial transactions. It gets worse. The documents also reveal that CFPB contractors may be required to share the information with “additional government entities.”
So, in sum, the CFPB is collecting financial data on American citizens without their knowledge and spreading it throughout our entire system of government – all under the direction and control of our Big Brother, President Obama.
Since it’s been a couple of months since we’ve discussed the records, let’s review the most important information we uncovered:
The full extent of the CFPB personal financial data collection program is revealed in a document obtained by Judicial Watch entitled “INDEFINITE-DELIVERY INDEFINITE-QUANTITY (IDIQ) STATEMENT OF WORK.”
Issued by CFPB Contracting Officer Xiaoling Ang on July 3, 2012, the IDIQ document’s stated objective: “The CFPB seeks to acquire and maintain a nationally representative panel of credit information on consumers for use in a wide range of policy research projects… The panel shall be a random sample of consumer credit files obtained from a national database of credit files.”
To accomplish this objective, the CFPB describes the scope of the program:
The panel shall include 5 million consumers, and joint borrowers, co-signers, and authorized users [emphasis added]. The initial panel shall contain 10 years of historical data on a quarterly basis [emphasis added]. The initial sample shall be drawn from current records and historical data appended for that sample as well as additional samples during the intervening years [emphasis added] to make the combined samples representative at each point in time.
The CFPB data collection program has been highly controversial since the April 2013 hearing, when Cordray disclosed elements of the venture at a Senate Banking Committee hearing. At the time, the US Chamber of Commerce accused the CFPB of breaking the law by demanding the account-level data without a warrant or National Security Letter.
Now, in the wake of the IRS scandal and National Security Agency (NSA) revelations, what was a controversy is now a full-blown scandal.
The Obama administration’s warrantless collection of the private financial information of millions of Americans is mind-blowing. Is there anything that this administration thinks it can’t do? These documents show that the Consumer Financial Protection Board is an out-of-control government agency that threatens the fundamental privacy and financial security of Americans. This is every bit as serious as the controversy over the NSA’s activities.
Of course, the key question is what can be done about it. Senator Crapo had a response:
“The most important thing I can recommend right now is to get engaged…This will probably take longer to correct that we’d like to think. But each person is not just one voice. We all have a circle of influence, we have email lists, we have Christmas card lists, we have Facebook, we have Twitter. There are many ways you can influence people and get them to weigh in. America needs to stand up and demand that Congress fix this.”
I’d add one other suggestion. Please consider supporting Judicial Watch with a tax-deductible contribution so that we can continue our efforts to expose waste, fraud and abuse inside this agency. We provide the hard evidence that Senators Crapo and Risch and others concerned about the CFPB can use to rein in this agency.
One more note: After the Boise press conference, Judicial Watch hosted a reception for local Judicial Watch members with Senator Crapo. The turnout was fantastic (140 people in the middle of August) and it was a joy to meet so many faithful supporters of our work. The turnout, enthusiasm, and knowledge of that Boise crowd should serve a warning to corrupt politicians everywhere – Judicial Watch members are tough and are willing to hold them personally to account to the rule of law.
Judicial Watch Obtains Documents Revealing ACORN Spinoff Received HUD Grant Despite Federal Funding Ban
ACORN is back in the news. That’s right, the supposedly defunct, defunded and bankrupt organization that fixed elections for liberal candidates is STILL alive and well.
This week we released documents from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) revealing that on February 12, 2013, HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Housing Counseling Sarah Gerecke may have violated federal law by requesting that $201,222.07 be transferred from the account of the defunct Affordable Housing Centers of America (AHCOA), an ACORN spinoff, to HUD intermediary Mission for Peace “to specifically pay for the activities of former AHCOA affiliates .”
According to the documents, we received pursuant to a FOIA request filed on May 16, 2013, the Gerecke memo requesting the transfer appears to have been in violation of the first continuing resolution of FY 13. That resolution continued funding levels under the FY 2012 appropriations bills, which provided that no HUD funds “made available under this Act may be distributed to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) or its subsidiaries.”
The Gerecke memo sent to Assistant Secretary for Housing-Federal Housing Commissioner Carol J. Galante, an Obama appointee, through Acting General Deputy Assistant Secretary of Housing Laura M. Marin stated:
In March 2012, HUD’s Program Support Division (PSD) received notice that Affordable Housing Centers of American (AHCOA) had closed and would no longer participate in the HUD Housing Counseling Program. Upon closing, AHCOA had a balance of $201,222.07 in its account.
The Office of Housing Counseling (OHC) is requesting to transfer, under the “replacement grant” rule, the AHCOA balance of $201,222.07 to MOP to specifically pay for the activities of the former AHCOA affiliates. PSD met with the Office of the General Counsel and the Office of Budget and Field Resources to confirm transfer was allowable.
According to records obtained by JW dated February 19, 2013, the funds were to be transferred to Mission of Peace President and CEO Reverend Elmira Smith-Vincent in Flint, Michigan. A Line of Credit Control System Treasury Detail memo obtained by Judicial Watch confirmed that the transfer had been made on February 25, 2013.
ACORN was always a twisted and convoluted web of corrupt organizations – designed this way to obfuscate their shadowy activities. And that has continued even after a series of scandals triggered the collapse of ACORN in late 2009.
At that time, what was previously called ACORN Housing was renamed Affordable Housing Centers of America in early 2010. Former ACORN Housing president Alton Bennett retained the same position with AHCOA, as did executive director Mike Shea and vice president Dorothy Amadi. Public affairs director Bruce Dorpalen was formerly ACORN Housing’s loan director.
Same people. Same corrupt mission.
Months later, in April 2010, California Rep. Darrell Issa, then the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, issued a Committee investigative report stating, “Committee investigators have discovered that Affordable Housing Centers of America, Inc. maintains the same Tax Identification Number as ACORN Housing, Inc., its predecessor. This means that, for tax purposes, Affordable Housing Centers of America and ACORN Housing are the same.”
According to Fox News, Issa later said, “Just as criminals change their aliases, ACORN is changing its name. But make no mistake about it, just because they change their name, doesn’t mean anything has really changed at all.”
In August 2011, after an exhaustive investigation, we released a special report on ACORN spinoffs entitled “The Rebranding of ACORN.” The report concluded, “What was previously called ACORN Housing was renamed Affordable Housing Centers of America … New and existing ACORN ‘spinoffs’ are alive and well and will surely continue to flaunt state and federal laws … In the words of [former chief executive officer of ACORN] Bertha Lewis, ‘[We have created] 18 bulletproof community-organizing Frankensteins that they’re going to have a very hard time attacking.’”
A September 21, 2010, HUD Inspector General report noted that ACORN Housing, “now operating as Affordable Housing Centers of America misappropriated funds from a $3,252,399 federal grant.” However, despite this finding, the GAO issued a conflicting advisory opinion saying that AHCOA was not, for the purposes of the funding ban, a subsidiary of ACORN. Meanwhile, NeighborWorks America, a taxpayer-funded private/public entity, concluded that giving taxpayer funds to the ACORN-front would be in violation of federal law.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: past is prologue. Barack Obama likely owes his election, if not re-election, to the nefarious activities of ACORN and ACORN spinoffs. He is truly the president from ACORN.
And at the same time we learn that the Obama administration is unleashing a vast new federal program to force “low-income” housing into every single community in America, we find out that HUD is continuing illegally to fund ACORN spinoffs committed to carrying out Obama’s dictums. This is no coincidence. Many of the officials at HUD come out of the activist ranks of ACORN and its allies on the Left. So they know exactly what they are doing when they play with our money and the law through this shell game.
ACORN is far from defunct. It operates now as a group of “community organizing Frankensteins” with Obama’s HUD pulling the switch and giving the organization new life.
JUDICIAL WATCH VICTORY! Court Tosses Illegal Alien Sanctuary Policy
Let’s close with a victory, shall we? And not just any victory, but one against the ACLU!
Last week I reported to you that JW attorneys would be in court arguing against an illegal alien sanctuary policy in the State of California, “home” to the nation’s largest population of illegal immigrants. And this week I’ve got great news to report. The good guys won! Our lead attorney Paul Orfanedes flew to LA to represent our taxpayer client, Harold Sturgeon, before the court. As reported by The Los Angeles Daily News:
A Superior Court judge on Wednesday threw out a controversial Los Angeles Police Department policy that allowed officers to release impounded vehicles to unlicensed drivers sooner than the 30-day period spelled out under state law…
…Special Order 7, approved in April 2012, allowed vehicles to be released to unlicensed drivers without a 30-day impound if they had proof of insurance, valid identification and no previous citations for unlicensed driving, and if a licensed driver was available to drive the vehicle away.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League and the conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch had filed suit last year to overturn the policy. Superior Court Judge Terry Green said the city is pre-empted by the state vehicle code that spells out when cars are to be removed and for how long.
This is precisely what Judicial Watch had argued in its original complaint: “A local government has no authority to regulate or control any matter covered by the California Vehicle Code unless such authority is expressly granted by the State of California….Because the provisions of Special Order 7 are not within the purview of any express authorization granted by the State of California Defendants…were without authority to enact Special Order 7…”
Or, as JW Director of Litigation Paul Orfanedes aptly put it, Special Order 7 represented a “municipal fiat” to overturn state law and was unlawful from the start.
Folks, this is not only yet another victory for Judicial Watch against illegal alien sanctuary polices. (We’ve had our share, from shutting down illegal day labor sites, to successfully stopping taxpayer-funded benefits for illegal alien students.) It is a huge sigh of relief for the citizens of California.
After all, there was a good reason why the 30-day impound policy was in effect – to save lives!
The math here is pretty simple. More than 20% of drivers involved in fatal accidents were unlicensed drivers. A driver with a suspended license was four times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than a properly licensed driver. Keep these cars impounded and the citizens of California are safer. (Which makes it all the more ridiculous that brass at the top of the Los Angeles Police Department sought to put an end to the policy.)
And, in case you’re wondering, illegal aliens comprise the vast majority of unlicensed drivers, which is why Special Order 7 constitutes an illegal alien sanctuary policy. Or should I say “constituted,” past tense.
I want to congratulate our legal team, led by Paul Orfanedes, for a job very well done. The illegal immigration machine is well funded and aggressive and it is no easy task to beat them in the courts – even when you have the law on your side. The other side, the ACLU and the City of Los Angeles, will try to appeal and delay the overturning of the illegal Special Order 7, but you can be sure that we continue the battle, too.
I also encourage you to review the transcript of this week’s hearing before Superior Court Judge Terry Green. One section in particular caught my eye, as it evidences the very model of judicial restraint:
The Intervenors and others made arguments, the ACLU made arguments, that were more in the line of policy arguments. And, you know, it may be good policy. I’m not here to discuss whether a policy is a good policy or a bad policy. We don’t do public policy here in the Superior Court. We just [examine] laws and decide disputes.
When I was reading it, I said that makes sense, I can see your point of view. But isn’t that why we have a legislature. Isn’t that why we elect representatives, Assemblymen or Assembly persons or Senators and elect a Governor that is why they are there. You can make your pitch to these people. I don’t think the legislature and the Governor are necessarily hostile to your position ab initio.
So maybe you can carry the day in a public debate, but I don’t know that it’s my place as a judge to make those, well, I do know, it’s not my place as a judge to make those policy determinations.
As you can see, all is not lost with our nation’s judiciary!
Until next week…
Tom Fitton, President Judicial Watch, Inc., a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law. Through its educational endeavors, Judicial Watch advocates high standards of ethics and morality in our nation's public life and seeks to ensure that political and judicial officials do not abuse the powers entrusted to them by the American people. Judicial Watch fulfills its educational mission through litigation, investigations, and public outreach.