LEWISTON — On the heels of perhaps the largest-ever breach of consumer privacy by the data collection and monitoring firm Equifax, which recently announced that records connected to 143 million people may have been stolen by hackers, addressing how the government deals with credit agencies has suddenly become a hot campaign issue.
Congressional candidate Jared Golden, a Lewiston Democrat, said Monday that the lawmaker he hopes to unseat, 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, has put the desires of the country’s financial sector ahead of his constituents.
Republican consultant Brent Littlefield responded saying, “Liberal Jared Golden should spend more time worrying about how he is going to win his Democratic primary against all of his rivals than attacking Congressman Bruce Poliquin’s work with long-winded press releases.”
Golden pointed to a June vote in the House where Poliquin, a Republican, voted for legislation that would continue to allow financial firms to force their customers into arbitration instead of allowing them to file lawsuits against firms such as Equifax.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau had recommended barring financial firms from making such requirements.
Poliquin and all but one other House Republican voted for the Financial Choice Act. He said the legislation would “end big Wall Street bank bailouts, impose the most severe penalties in history for financial criminals, relieve Maine’s community banks and local credit unions of smothering regulatory burdens and create stronger safeguards for consumers.”
The measure passed the House but remains locked up in a Senate committee, its fate uncertain. Even if the proposed regulation is allowed to go into effect, it would not apply to the Equifax case because it is scheduled to apply starting in 2018.
Golden, who is the assistant majority leader in the state House, said Poliquin “should be working to protect everyday people from data breaches and ensure they are fairly compensated when they fall victim. Instead, he’s working to limit the damages and fallout for the institutions that allow the breaches to happen.”
“That’s unacceptable to me,” Golden said in a prepared statement. He vowed that in Congress he would “protect people’s right to a day in court against banks and corporations like Equifax that fail to protect consumers’ sensitive information.”
Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, introduced the Maine lawmaker as “a real workhorse” on his panel before Poliquin explained his support for the bill during a short speech on the House floor in July.
Poliquin told colleagues he represents “tens of thousands of small-business owners in our state that create thousands of jobs for our families,” including a number of small community banks and credit unions.
In a statement in May, Kyle Casburn, vice chairman of the Maine Credit Union League, said the regulations that followed “the Great Recession” nearly a decade ago “created unnecessary and undue burden on small, community financial institutions such as Maine’s credit unions.”
“We were collectively lumped into the same category as the money center banks on the vast majority of regulations, with no forethought about the time and cost for us to comply,” he said, urging Poliquin and others to support the Choice Act.
The Credit Union National Association took issue with the proposed rule to limit arbitration by financial firms, saying that “credit unions and members have been harmed by class action litigation, where plaintiffs’ lawyers are seeking to profit from lucrative attorneys’ fees under the guise of consumer protection.”
Littlefield asked, “Why would Maine’s credit unions and community banks, which support Maine families and small businesses, support something” that Golden claims is bad?
Poliquin said on the House floor that changes called for in the proposed legislation would “reduce unnecessary paperwork and costs” that would help them “lend money to small businesses and our families so they can live better lives with more freedom and have better job opportunities.”
Poliquin also said the measure would keep “very strong” protections in place for consumers, “while at the same time imposing the toughest penalties ever for fraud and inside dealings for folks that participate in this industry.”
He called it “a great bill for rural America” that the huge banks and Wall Street oppose despite its reduction in regulations.
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said, however, that the American Bankers Association, which includes the country’s biggest banks among its members, supported the GOP’s proposal. “Wall Street loves this bad bill,” she said.
Some Democrats who spoke on the floor agreed that the bill would help smaller financial institutions, but warned that it would also strip away protections for consumers, the elderly and others.
State Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston