Equifax Spotlight Shines on Senate Chair Who Shuns It

By Rob Tricchinelli

Don’t expect the chairman to hog the spotlight when former Equifax Inc. CEO Richard F. Smith makes his first Senate appearance since the company revealed a hack that compromised 143 million consumers’ personal information.

Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) has kept a low profile since becoming chairman of the Senate Banking Committee in January, just as he’s done throughout his nearly quarter-century in Congress.

His low-key demeanor was on display at another notable hearing a year ago when Wells Fargo’s then-CEO John Stumpf testified about the bank’s fake account scandal. Crapo held back from the loud and often angry queries employed by colleagues in both parties as he asked in a measured tone about data security and how affected consumers could seek redress.

“Chairman Crapo definitely is not into being bombastic, inflammatory, and overly provocative,” Brandon R. Barford, a partner at Beacon Policy Advisors LLC and former Senate Banking Committee staffer, told Bloomberg BNA in an interview. “He’s not necessarily looking to use hearings that he holds to get a lot of press for things.”

Smith’s Oct. 4 testimony, coming one day after an appearance by Wells Fargo’s new CEO Timothy Sloan, will cap the most high-profile stretch for the committee since Crapo took the gavel.

Low-Key Approach

Crapo, whose office didn’t comment for this story, has yet to introduce any proposal to roll back the Dodd-Frank Act, saying he is seeking a bipartisan approach and prefers to first move legislation to overhaul Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The committee has held a steady trickle of hearings, covering nominations, federal agency oversight, international sanctions, economic growth proposals, and tweaks to securities laws. Crapo is negotiating behind closed doors with Democrats about the contours of a possible banking bill, the panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), said last week.

“The Crapo model is long on personal relationships, open communication, trust, and patience,” Will Hollier, president of Hollier & Associates LLC in Washington and former Crapo aide, told Bloomberg BNA in an interview .

Crapo’s understated approach—like that of his predecessor, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)—contrasts with his counterpart on the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), who was quick to introduce his Dodd-Frank rollback bill and shepherd it through that chamber.

Hensarling has been a monthly fixture on cable news shows talking about Dodd-Frank, tax reform, the Federal Reserve and the debt ceiling. Crapo largely avoids television cameras and provides few quotes to Capitol Hill reporters.

His biggest moment as a lawmaker came while serving on the Simpson-Bowles Commission, which produced a bipartisan blueprint for deficit reduction and subsequently yoked together a “gang of six” senators who worked on a legislative plan to raise revenues and cut spending.

“He’s not about tough talk and rhetoric,” John Anderson of Rich Feuer Anderson in Washington, a former Crapo adviser, told Bloomberg BNA. “I think he wants to maintain a thoughtful approach, because that also allows him to stay engaged with the other side.”

History

Crapo made headlines in December 2012 when he was arrested for drunken driving outside Washington, which he described as “one of the worst times of my life” in an interview with McClatchy. He later pleaded guilty and received a 180-day suspended jail sentence.

The fourth-generation Idaho native graduated from Brigham Young University and Harvard Law School. He served a combined 14 years in the Idaho Senate and U.S. House before winning a Senate election in 1998. He won a fourth Senate term in 2016 by more than a two-to-one margin.

In the two years prior to that election, Crapo held town meetings in every incorporated city in his home state, wrapping up with No. 200 in the city hall of Wardner, population 175.

Equifax, Wells Misconduct

Senators in both parties have made clear they intend to closely question the leaders of both Equifax and Wells Fargo, which is still reeling from the account scandal, fresh revelations of misconduct in auto loans, and a parade of lawsuits.

In August, the bank announced it had discovered more than a million additional potentially unauthorized accounts, bringing the total to as many as 3.5 million. That followed new disclosures in July that the bank may have billed as many as 500,000 customers for unneeded auto insurance, which prompted calls from committee Democrats for a new hearing.

“I think Crapo’s going to treat these hearings just as any other hearing he’s chaired or anything else,” Hollier said. “Yeah, it’s a lot more politicized, but I really don’t see him changing his modus operandi.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Rob Tricchinelli in Washington at rtricchinelli@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Ferullo at MFerullo@bna.com

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