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The Honorable Gene L. Dodaro
Comptroller General of the United States
The United States Government Accountability Office
441 G St., NW
Washington, DC 20548
Dear Mr. Dodaro:
I am writing to ask that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigate the media report that Mick Mulvaney, the interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the director of the Office of Management and Budget, urged officials at an American Bankers Association conference to contact Members of Congress and lobby them to take control of the CFPB by removing its funding through the Federal Reserve.1 If that report is true, Mulvaney’s actions appear to violate the ban on lobbying with appropriated funds and the Antideficiency Act.
The executive branch has an outsized influence on public opinion, which is why Congress has put in place a number of restrictions on the ability of federal agencies to influence the public. These provisions include the anti-lobbying law, which prohibits grassroots lobbying efforts with taxpayer funds to pressure Congress to support “any legislation or appropriation by Congress,”2 and restrictions included in annual appropriations bills against using appropriated funds to support or oppose legislation pending before the Congress. While Mulvaney is free to express his opinions on annual appropriations through official communications with Congress, the GAO has consistently found that this stops short of a “clear appeal by an agency to the public to contact Members of Congress in support of, or in opposition to, pending legislation.”3
Currently, there are multiple pending bills in Congress that would either eliminate the CFPB or alter its funding sources,4 which could undermine the independence and effectiveness of the agency.
I have previously testified before Congress that I believe the anti-lobbying restrictions are interpreted too narrowly,5 but even with their relatively lax standard, we think that there has likely been a violation of law. Mulvaney’s reported remarks, along with his legislative proposals,6 indicate a troubling coordinated campaign to engage in grassroots lobbying to gut the CFPB. Using appropriated funds for prohibited lobbying is a violation of law, the Antideficiency Act, and of the public trust.
Mulvaney’s reported appeal to the banking industry echoes previously exposed illegal efforts by the Department of Defense and defense contractors to influence Members of Congress on funding for the C-5B cargo plane.7 As you are aware, in that case the GAO recommended the Justice Department investigate Air Force Office of Legislative Liaison Director Major General Guy Hecker, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs Russell Rourke, Deputy Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci, and Secretary of the Air Force Verne Orr for possible violations of the anti-lobbying law.8
The CFPB and its mission must be free from improper manipulation and influence by executive branch officials calling on the public to lobby Congress. Thank you for your consideration of this request. Please contact me or POGO’s General Counsel, Scott Amey, at 202-347-1122 if you have any questions.