By Alex Ebert
Richard Cordray, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s first director, pitches himself as a champion for working people who should become Ohio’s next governor. His opponent points to the same record at CFPB to paint Cordray as a bad manager and job killer.
Cordray returned home in late 2017 after five years at the CFPB, far less well known in Ohio than his Republican opponent Mike DeWine, a former U.S. senator who succeeded him as state attorney general.
That means both campaigns are working to define Cordray to voters, Bob Clegg, an Ohio GOP consultant told Bloomberg Law on Sept. 27. Messaging on the CFPB, which remains a relatively obscure regulator seven years after its creation, has proved to be some of the strongest for both sides in a dead-heat race.
The Ohio GOP paints Cordray as a corrupt bureaucrat responsible for running an agency rife with discrimination, job-killing policies, and political graft. It cites a federal lawsuit, a $145 million agency headquarters renovation, and payments to a liberal ad firm to taint the five-time “Jeopardy!” champion and Supreme Court clerk’s nerdy image.
“You’ve been a failure at every job you’ve had — the last job you had had a culture of discrimination,” DeWine said in a Sept. 19 debate in Dayton. “What you were really going against is community bankers. We lost a fourth of them in Ohio during the time that you were harassing them, and with all the implications that has to local communities.”
Cordray continues to bring up his time at the CFPB, and even made it the first part of his resume on his campaign website biography.
“As for my record, Mike, at the CFPB, we got 30 million Americans $12 billion back in their pockets,” Cordray said at the debate. “I am proud of that work. You can quote the industry lobbyists’ talking points that tried to slow us down all you want.”
The Cordray campaign has highlighted the CFPB’s watchdog role and lawsuits against auto lenders and Citibank. Meanwhile, the DeWine campaign is highlighting the CFPB because it’s the most high-profile role Corday has had and “a very tangible example of what his performance is,” DeWine campaign spokesperson Joshua Eck told Bloomberg Law on Sept. 28.
Cordray started at the CFPB before it opened for business. Elizabeth Warren, who was tasked by then-President Barack Obama to organize and start up the CFPB, named Cordray head of its enforcement office in December 2010. Seven months later, Obama nominated him to lead the CFPB. He took over in January 2012 as a recess appointment after Senate Republicans filibustered his nomination.
Cordray’s aggressive approach to the job attracted the ire of the financial services industry and congressional Republicans before he resigned from the job last November to pursue the governor’s seat being vacated by term-limited Republican John Kasich.
“If spun appropriately,” this part of Cordray’s resume “should be a tremendous asset, with the bottom line that, ‘Cordray was on your side,’” Herb Asher, an Ohio State University politics professor emeritus, told Bloomberg Law on Sept. 27.
Despite the fact that “consumer protection” is part of the agency’s name, Republicans have found plenty to attack.
“Cordray’s record at the CFPB shows a pattern of mismanagement and scandal that is raising red flags for Ohio voters,” Ohio GOP Chairman Jane Timken told Bloomberg Law in a Sept. 28 email.
She and the DeWine campaign have hammered Cordray for the past several months on a 2016 Government Accountability Office report in which roughly one-quarter of black, Asian, and female CFPB employees reported personally experiencing discrimination. DeWine in August started running a statewide ad named “Toxic Workplace” that alleges Cordray did nothing to address alleged discrimination in the agency.
This issue made headlines in September when a former CFPB employee filed a suit seeking to certify a class action, claiming the agency discriminated against minority and female workers.
“You would think this would be a total positive on Cordray, but in politics, you just never know if something’s going to help or hurt you, and this is an example of that,” Clegg said.
Asher put it more cynically. “I’m sure you could run an ad that says, ‘When Candidate X was in the Boy Scouts, there were scandals in the Boy Scouts,” he said. “As long as people believe a negative commercial won’t backfire, they’ll run with it.”
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