AG Opposes Federal Plan to End Consumer Complaint Database: Says New Jersey Consumers Have a Right to Know

TRENTON – New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today urged the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) not to eliminate or reduce public access to its Consumer Complaint Database, calling the database an important resource for individual New Jersey consumers and state consumer protection agencies alike.

In a letter to CFPB Acting Director Mick Mulvaney, Attorney General Grewal contends that ending or reducing public access to the CFPB database would run counter to the agency’s mission under the Dodd-Frank Act, and its obligations under the federal right-to-know law called the Freedom of Information Act.

Other states also have opposed restricting public access to the database, but New Jersey stands out because of its argument that restricting public access may violate federal law.

“Eliminating or restricting public access to the Consumer Complaint Database would not just be bad policy, but would also mark a sharp retreat from the Bureau’s statutory mandate and violate its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), Attorney General Grewal writes. “I encourage the Bureau to maintain or expand public access to consumer complaint information on the Bureau’s website, rather than limiting the information the federal government makes available to American consumers.”

Attorney General Grewal’s letter responds to a Request for Information that the CFPB published in the March 6, 2018 Federal Register. In its request, CFPB references “potential changes” under consideration relative to “the Bureau’s public reporting practices of consumer complaint information.” Acting Director Mulvaney intends to end public access to the database. Recently, Mulvaney told a banking industry conference he saw nothing in the law “that says I have to run a Yelp for financial services sponsored by the federal government.”

In his letter, Attorney General Grewal cites Mulvaney’s comments and urges the Acting Director to set aside debate over whether the Dodd-Frank Act “expressly demands” easy public access to consumer complaint information in favor of asking what approach best serves the American public.

“The public database helps ensure that the markets for consumer financial products and services are more fair, transparent and competitive,” Attorney General Grewal notes.

Elsewhere in the letter, Attorney General Grewal observes that the existence of the CFPB database – which has been online since 2012 – has empowered consumers by improving their ability to make well-informed financial choices for themselves and their families.”

Attorney General Grewal goes on to point out that his office – which includes the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs – frequently draws on the public CFPB database to “monitor complaint trends, establish enforcement priorities and identify possible violations of consumer protection laws.”

Attorney General Grewal also reminds Acting Director Mulvaney that the Freedom of Information Act mandates that federal agencies “proactively disclose frequently-requested records – making these records electronically available to the public and updating them continuously.” The Consumer Complaint Database on the CFPB’s website allows the CFPB to comply with this open-government requirement.

In addition to submitting a letter encouraging the CFPB to maintain public access to its Consumer Complaint Database, Attorney General Grewal submitted a formal Freedom of Information Act request today seeking records that reflect the number of people who use the database.

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