Administration Filed Log on the Last Day of the CRA Comment Period, Continues to Withhold Key Details and Substance of Communications from the Public
Democracy Forward, Community Development Orgs Call Out OCC’s Hollow Claims to Accountability, File Request for Full Records
On the same day the comment period closed on the Trump administration’s plan to weaken regulations implementing the Community Reinvestment Act — the law designed to combat redlining and encourage banks to meet the credit needs of their communities — the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency released a log of Comptroller Joseph Otting’s previously undisclosed and off-the-books discussions with banking industry executives on OCC’s proposal to gut the CRA regulations. The summaries, which lack detail and substance, were posted to the rulemaking docket after Democracy Forward, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, and the California Reinvestment Coalition demanded that the administration disclose Comptroller Otting’s ex parte communications with nongovernmental stakeholders. Although the release of this minimal information is a tiny step forward, by waiting until the close of the comment period and revealing virtually nothing about the information and views conveyed by the bank executives, the Trump administration still denies the public a fair and transparent rulemaking process. Due to the administration’s release of a call log beferet of substantive information Accordingly, Democracy Forward, NCRC, and CRC submitted a Freedom of Information Act request with OCC today for a full accounting of Comptroller Otting’s CRA discussions with records revealing the views conveyed by these executives.
“The Trump administration’s token attempt at transparency continues to deny the public a meaningful opportunity to evaluate the full record behind this deeply flawed proposal to gut the Community Reinvestment Act,” said Democracy Forward Senior Counsel Nitin Shah.
The OCC’s disclosures of Otting’s calls with the CEOs of 17 major banks, including Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citi, and JPMorgan Chase, reveal limited information and provide no details about the discussion of what OCC has called “the mischaracterizations that exists [sic] about the proposal.” Inexplicably, the OCC has provided almost no detail of these conversations, in stark contrast to the agency’s documentation of its interactions with nonprofit organizations fighting to strengthen the CRA and address discrepancies in lending to low- and moderate-income communities.
“The OCC issued a summary, not notes, and it was too little and too late,” said Jesse Van Tol, CEO of NCRC. “It left out details of the calls, and releasing it the same day the comment period closed didn’t give anyone an opportunity to evaluate or submit a comment in response.
“If the OCC really wanted to be transparent and accountable, they would have recognized the lack of information they provided during the entire comment period and would have acknowledged how difficult it was for the public to focus on changes to CRA during a global pandemic. Now, they are pushing through a rule that even before COVID-19 was going to lead to less lending and investment for some communities, and with no analysis about how it will impact communities that will need to rebuild after the pandemic.”
In response to the groups’ demand to release the call log, the OCC claimed it “strongly agree[s]” that “transparency and accountability are important, especially in the CRA and the rulemaking process.” Yet, the limited record posted this week only provides further evidence to the contrary. While attempting to stymie public scrutiny of its dismantling of the CRA — a landmark anti-redlining law — OCC has sought to silence groups that oppose the proposed changes. Accordingly, in December 2019, Democracy Forward and the California Reinvestment Coalition filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking records that detail why OCC attacked critics who are concerned about communities harmed by redlining. And just last week, Democracy Forward filed suit against the OCC and FDIC on behalf of NCRC for withholding data and analysis that supposedly formed the basis for the administration’s proposal.
“The scarce information released by the OCC call log follows a pattern of disregard for transparency and a commitment to the public process,” said Paulina Gonzalez-Brito, Executive Director of the California Reinvestment Coalition.
“As communities struggle in the middle of a pandemic which threatens lives and livelihoods, Comptroller Joseph Otting pressed ahead with his ill-conceived and harmful proposed CRA rule. By proceeding to close the public comment period as communities focused on saving lives and staving off economic calamity the democratic process of the public comment period must be questioned. Now, Otting has promised to issue a final rule in the first half of the year, before communities fully emerge to assess the economic cost of this pandemic. The consequences for post-pandemic communities are dangerous and irresponsible given the economic devastation the country is facing.”
In September 2018, the Trump administration began a rulemaking to weaken the CRA. The proposed rule has been criticized for potentially allowing banks to pick and choose which communities to serve, reducing development and preservation of affordable housing, and decreasing consumer access to affordable banking products. The public comment period closed on April 8, 2020.