June 25, 2019

Sen. Warren, Reps. Pressley and Porter Raise Concerns Over the Continued Employment of High-Level CFPB Staffer with History of Working for Anti-LGBTQ Hate Group

Employment history of Assistant Director of Bureau's Office of Innovation raises questions about his fitness to work at the agency and properly enforce rules against lending discrimination

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representatives Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Katie Porter (D-Calif.) today sent a letter to Kathleen Kraninger, Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), urging the CFPB to reconsider its continued employment of Paul Watkins as the Assistant Director of the Office of Innovation after a report this week revealed that Mr. Watkins previously served as a senior counsel for an anti-LGBTQ hate group, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). The ADF has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its efforts to develop "legislation and case law that will allow the denial of goods and services to LGBT people." Given his previous role, the lawmakers expressed concerns about Mr. Watkins's fitness for his job considering the discretion his position has to exempt certain companies from complying with anti-discrimination laws.

As the Assistant Director of the Office of Innovation at the CFPB, Mr. Watkins has authority over anti-discrimination laws like the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), which the CFPB interprets to afford broad protection against lending discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. Given Mr. Watkins's previous commitment to an organization with a mission to discriminate and criminalize LGBTQ communities, the lawmakers are further concerned over his capacity to unbiasedly perform his responsibilities at the CFPB.

"Mr. Watkin's role at the CFPB gives him wide discretion to exempt companies -- or even entire industries -- from anti-discrimination laws and given his past work at a homophobic hate group, we are deeply concerned that he will use this power to scrap crucial protections for the LGBTQ consumers," wrote the lawmakers. "We therefore ask that you reconsider his employment and his role at the Bureau."

The lawmakers were also concerned about the impact of Watkins's employment on the culture of diversity and inclusion at CFPB, which has been hurt by the leadership's failure to dismiss former Policy Associate Director Eric Blankenstein for months after reports revealed his history of racist writings. Senator Warren also recently wrote to the CFPB about potentially discriminatory financial technology algorithms, which are pertinent to Mr. Watkins's role as the assistant director of the Office of Innovation, which oversees financial technology companies.

"Repairing the harm done to the culture of diversity and inclusion by Blankenstein should be among your top priorities because the CFPB's most valuable resource is a dedicated civil service workforce," concluded the lawmakers. "Fraying this culture further by allowing Mr. Watkins, who has actively worked to undermine the dignity of the consumers that the CFPB is supposed to serve and some of the dedicated staff you are supposed to lead, would be a monumental failure of leadership."

In response to their concerns about Mr. Watkins' employment with the CFPB, the lawmakers requested answers to their questions no later than July 9, 2019.