Late last Tuesday night, as most Mainers were heading to bed, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Vice President Mike Pence voted to help Wall Street steal from Main Street consumers.
At issue was whether customers who have been ripped off or scammed by a bank, credit card company or lender have the right to go to court. Financial companies such as Equifax and Wells Fargo have hidden forced arbitration clauses in the fine print of take-it-or-leave-it contracts, denying customers this basic American right, instead forcing customers into secretive private arbitration systems rigged to favor corporate crooks.
In July, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a rule restoring the public’s right to join together in class actions to take financial scammers to court. In Tuesday night’s achingly close vote, Collins and 49 other Republicans voted to strike down the rule, and Vice President Pence provided the tie-breaking vote, handing a virtual Get Out of Jail Free card to financial institutions.
Collins betrayed Maine voters, who supported the rule four-to-one. To be clear, you can’t get to 80 percent support for anything in a state such as Maine without a whole lot of Republicans in the mix. Even conservative pollsters found that nearly two out of three Republicans nationwide wanted to keep the rule.
So why did Collins flout the will of her own constituents? Wall Street money.
The financial sector has contributed tens of millions of dollars to senators who supported overturning the rule, and spent untold amounts lobbying against the rule. Collins herself has received more than $3.5 million in lifetime contributions from the financial sector — a small price to pay for the billions in profits they will reap by stealing from consumers.
Who will be hurt by Collins’ collaboration with Wall Street? Hundreds of Wells Fargo customers in Maine alone who had fake accounts opened in their name; military service members who are in no position to arbitrate small claims while fighting overseas; millions of consumers whose personal information was stolen in the Equifax data breach and countless others whose stories will never be told because arbitration takes place in secret — hidden from authorities who could put a stop to financial rip-offs and abuses.
It is telling that Collins never spoke on the U.S. Senate floor during Tuesday night’s debate to defend her vote. Her silence speaks volumes. Ultimately though, it is her actions that count.
Collins, Pence and President Donald Trump’s Cabinet of big bank alums are moving in lockstep with Wall Street’s agenda — one that couldn’t be further from Trump’s populist campaign-trail rhetoric. It is an agenda that includes rolling back vital consumer protections such as the arbitration rule, wiping away common sense reforms put in place after the 2008 financial crisis that would prevent another economic meltdown and tax giveaways to big corporations and the super-rich.
No matter how often she has criticized the president’s offensive behavior, Collins is fully on board with Pence and Trump’s Wall Street agenda.
Lisa Gilbert is vice president of legislative affairs for Public Citizen, which led the fight to defend the arbitration rule.