WASHINGTON—Sen. Elizabeth Warren is pressing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau over what arrangements the agency has made to ensure that acting Director Mick Mulvaney is excluded from decisions that affect banks and other firms that previously gave him campaign contributions.

In a letter to Sonya White, the agency’s ethics official, the Massachusetts Democrat asked for details on what matters Mulvaney is recused from following comments he made earlier this week in which he said campaign contributions were a key factor in whether he took meetings with lobbyists.

“After Mr. Mulvaney's recent comments about the pay-to-play culture he maintained in his congressional office, I'm eager to learn more about safeguards the CFPB put into place to ensure that Mr. Mulvaney was excluded from decisions that affected the financial institutions that had given him campaign contributions,” Warren said in a letter to White dated Thursday.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Mick Mulvaney, acting CFPB director.
“For American families to trust the CFPB, they have to know that lobbyists' payments to Mr. Mulvaney's campaign are not putting in play CFPB policies that favor those same lobbyists,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said about acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney. Bloomberg News

In a separate letter directly to Mulvaney, Warren also cited those comments to renew questions about campaign donations from the payday lending industry and whether they affected his decision to delay implementation of a final rule creating new rules for such firms.

Mulvaney has been sharply criticized for comments he made at the American Bankers Association earlier in the week in which he said “we had a hierarchy in my office in Congress.”

“If you were a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you,” he said. “If you were a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you. If you came from back home and sat in my lobby, I talked to you without exception — regardless of the financial contributions.”

A number of lawmakers have since blasted Mulvaney, including Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Bob Casey, D-Pa., as well as the Senate Banking Committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who called on Mulvaney to resign.

In her letter to the CFPB’s ethics official, Warren noted that banks and credit unions had donated $92,000 to Mulvaney’s campaigns in the past and said he had taken actions as acting CFPB director to help those industries.

“For American families to trust the CFPB, they have to know that lobbyists' payments to Mr. Mulvaney's campaign are not putting in play CFPB policies that favor those same lobbyists,” Warren said.

Warren asked White what advice she had given Mulvaney over his relationships with past donors and whether he was recused from working on matters involving any specific firm or industry. She also questioned whether political appointees installed by Mulvaney, some of whom used to work for banks and other firms, are recused from working on issues before the CFPB.

“Given Mr. Mulvaney's admission that companies received access in exchange for political contributions during his time as a congressman, do you intend to take any additional action to prevent him from engaging in matters involving his donors?” Warren asked.

Warren has sparred with Mulvaney over his leadership at the CFPB since he was designated by President Trump to serve as acting director after Richard Cordray resigned as director in November.

After he took office, Mulvaney, who also serves as Trump’s budget director, delayed the implementation of the CFPB’s recently finalized payday lending rule, which would have required lenders who provide small-dollar, high-interest loans to ensure that customers are able to pay back them back.

He has also dropped a number of pending enforcement actions against payday lenders at the agency, some of which contributed to his previous congressional campaigns.

Warren wrote to Mulvaney in January about whether his decisions regarding payday lenders were politically influenced—a notion Mulvaney rejected in a February response.

Trump has yet to nominate a permanent director of the CFPB. That appointee will likely be heavily scrutinized by Senate Democrats, including Warren, who founded the agency.

Neil Haggerty

Neil Haggerty is the Congress reporter for American Banker. He previously was a financial regulation reporter at MLex Market Insight.