May 15, 2019

Cortez Masto Grills Otting About Administration’s Efforts to Silence Civil and Consumer Rights Advocates

2019.05.15_Banking_Hearing

Washington, D.C. – At a hearing of the Senate Banking Committee, U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) questioned Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting about his office’s unprecedented decision to publicly chastise critics of its proposed changes to the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). Last fall, the agency published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and received nearly 1,500 public comments. In January, a top official at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) sent a letter to a community organization scolding their views; he then published an opinion piece in the American Banker criticizing participants in the public comment process for “not contributing positively to the public discussion” in March.

The OCC is seeking to change provisions of the CRA that require banks to provide loans, services, and investments in communities where they operate, a change that could disproportionately hurt low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. During today’s hearing, Senator Cortez Masto stressed the importance of ensuring changes to the CRA do not widen the homeownership gap between white and African-American families.

“To make those changes, you just said it earlier, you’re receiving public comment to help as you maneuver through this to ensure that gap does not get worse and you’re taking those public comments into consideration, correct?” the senator asked.

Otting agreed but conceded that he disagrees with some of the stakeholder feedback.

Senator Cortez Masto continued, “[T]hat’s the nature of it. You get public comment, some of it you agree with it, some of it you don’t, but you try to do the right thing here and ensure that you’re enforcing the law against redlining, isn’t that correct?”

Otting acknowledged that is the nature of the public comment process.

Senator Cortez Masto continued, “So what I don’t understand, then, is why when you receive public comment – and this is the first time I’ve ever seen a regulatory body do this – you’re trying to silence some of that public comment. You sent a letter to the California Investment Coalition trying to quiet them. You did an op-ed under Barry Wides, deputy comptroller of community affairs, talking about how some of the public comment you received you felt was not constructive and you were scolding them. I’m not quite sure what purpose that serves…”

“We felt the facts should be accurately reflected, and that particular organization was dispelling false information,” replied Otting, who offered to share the information with the senator after the hearing.

Senator Cortez Masto then pointed to Otting’s past comments disparaging community advocates for “pole-vaulting in and holding bankers hostage,” which he asserted happened to him when he was President and CEO of OneWest Bank and community advocates objected to the bank’s lending record.

Full video is of this exchange is available here.