Main Street’s watchdog has officially taken the reins in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. Senate voted to confirm former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
President Barack Obama nominated Cordray in 2011 and appointed him in January. The 66-34 Senate vote late Tuesday ends a two-year partisan impasse and officially instates him in the role. Vice President Joe Biden swore Cordray into office on Wednesday.
The bureau was established in 2010 with the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. It opened a year later to educate consumers about the financial products they use most, including credit cards and mortgages, and to supervise the banks and credit unions that provide those services. The agency also conducts research on the financial markets and the providers who serve them.
"There will be certainty for those markets and for the industries we oversee," Cordray said in a statement from the White House. "For me, it also reaffirms that our central responsibility is to stand on the side of consumers and see that they're treated fairly, just as the President described it. It's something that people deserve. It's something that they want and need. And we're there to try to provide it."
Since the agency launched, it has returned $425 million in refunds to 6 million consumers, according to testimony Cordray gave earlier this year before the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. Also, it is working to address more than 175,000 consumer complaints, Obama said in a statement from the White House earlier today.
"Part of what happens is when you've got a watchdog, people don't try as many things," said Obama. "And everybody starts tightening up their practices because they know somebody is watching. And so that has ripple effects throughout our economy."
At least one small-business group supports the confirmation. "For too long, Wall Street banks and the financial industry wrote their own rules while no one was looking out for small businesses and consumers," said David Borris, an executive committee member of the Main Street Alliance, a national advocacy organization, in a statement. "The Bureau is empowered with independence and authority to work to ensure that small businesses and consumers have an effective ally in our corner." Borris is also the owner of Hel's Kitchen Catering in Northbrook, Ill.
Other small-business groups, including the National Federation of Independent Business, whose spokeswoman declined to comment on Cordray's confirmation, have remained silent.
This is not Cordray's first role looking out for the little guys. In his time as Ohio's attorney general, Cordray recovered $2 billion for the state's retirees, investors and business owners. Previously, Cordray was an adjunct professor at the Ohio State University College of Law. He has also served as an Ohio State Representative and argued seven cases before the U.S. Supreme Court as a lawyer.