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December 10 2015

Latest Game at CFPB: Guess My Race!

Charlotte Hays

You can't beat this as a tale of devious bureaucrats who are so eager to sue law-abiding citizens that they don't mind making up statistics about race:  

The [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ] has been guessing the race and ethnicity of car-loan borrowers based on their last names and addresses—and then suing banks whenever it looks like the people the government guesses are white seem to be getting a better deal than the people it guesses are minorities.

This largely fact-free prosecutorial method is the reason a bipartisan House supermajority recently voted to roll back the bureau’s auto-loan rules.

Thus many of the people the bureau deemed black, for the purpose of filing harassing suits against the automobile loan business,  may have been no more black than Senator Elizabeth Warren, whose brainchild the CFPB is, is a Cherokee.

There has been some well-deserved hilarity about the CFPB adjudicating race based on inadequate information and big dreams of big lawsuits. But it's not funny to the lenders who were sued. The CFPB cited the "discrimination" they claimed to have uncovered as the justification of more regulation of the auto-loan industry.

According to a piece in the Wall Street Journal, officials at the CFPB knew they were merely guessing people's race and sought to hide this from the public.  What the Journal calls a "treasure trove" of documents was released. It included 2013 memo to CFPB head Richard Cordray reporting that officials had “reason to believe that our proxy is less accurate in identifying the race/ethnicity of particular individuals than some proprietary proxy methods that use nonpublic data.”

In other words: Hey, we're making this stuff up, but we can still file lawsuits!

The Journal explains more soberly:

A draft version of the memo also noted that if the bureau never publicly released the details of how it was guessing the race of borrowers, “our internal methodological deliberations will not be discoverable.” In other words, the law-abiding taxpayers getting sued by the bureau would not be able to learn how bogus its discrimination claims were. A draft memo also noted that a “methods announcement” would “endanger” the work of the bureau in part “by providing fodder to defendants to show how our methods are inferior to other proprietary proxies.”

Unable to sustain its non-transparency policy, the bureau eventually released some information on its guessing methodology, and outsiders have been poking holes in it ever since. The Wall Street Journal recently recreated the algorithm used by the bureau to do its guesswork and tested it with some well-known politicos. The algorithm didn’t know what to make of such last names as “Kasich” and “ Obama.”

Unable to sustain its non-transparency policy, the bureau eventually released some information on its guessing methodology, and outsiders have been poking holes in it ever since. The Wall Street Journal recently recreated the algorithm used by the bureau to do its guesswork and tested it with some well-known politicos. The algorithm didn’t know what to make of such last names as “Kasich” and “ Obama.”

That didn’t stop the bureau from branding car dealers as racists. A November 19, 2014 memorandum from bureau staff to Mr. Cordray requested authorization for a case against Honda’s American finance company and other defendants.

Mr. Cordray approved the request even though the memo explained what happened when a lender applied the bureau’s methodology to a set of mortgage borrowers whose race and ethnicity were already known. It turned out that “only 54% of the applicants identified by the proxy methodology as African-American were actually African-American,” according to the memo. Good enough for government work? Remember, this fraud was used not only to smear the reputations of law-abiding businesses but also to seek hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements.

The CFPB was sold as a bureau that would protect consumers. Using conjectures to sue companies that make loans to citizens to buy automobiles helps nobody (though it does make a good case for regulation, which is what they CFPB is really about, until the real figures emerge).

Cordray, the first director of the CFPB, named for the job by President Obama in 2011, has a long history of hostility towards business and of expressing this hostility through costly lawsuits.  



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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