On January 3, the CFPB announced the release of its annual report to the Senate and House Committees on Appropriations for 2016. The report—which covers October 1, 2015 through September 30, 2016—identifies the specific responsibilities that the Dodd-Frank Act tasked to the CFPB and explains how the Bureau has attempted to meet those responsibilities. Among other things, the report describes Bureau regulations and guidance related to the Dodd-Frank Act including, but not limited to: (i) a proposed rule on arbitration; (ii) a proposed rule related to payday loans, vehicle title loans, and other similar credit products; (iii) a final rule to amend various provisions of the mortgage servicing rules implementing the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act and the Truth in Lending Act; and (iv) a final rule amending Regulation C, implementing the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. The report also includes descriptions of the Bureau’s supervisory activities and enforcement actions undertaken by in the 2016 fiscal year.
On January 3, 2017, Senate Republican leadership released committee assignments for the 115th Congress, and in the process, announced the addition of three new Republican members of the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. Specifically, Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and John Kennedy (R-La.) have been assigned to the Committee, replacing Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who was reassigned, David Vitter (R-La.), who retired last year, and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who lost his re-election bid. Looking ahead, committee chairs will be selected next week following a vote of the members of each respective committee and then ratified by the Senate Republican Conference.
On December 20, the House Financial Services Committee’s Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing announced the release of a report detailing the results of its two-year investigation into terror financing. The report, entitled Stopping Terror Finance: Securing the U.S. Financial Sector, is intended to “serve as a useful summary of the key points illuminated by Task Force hearings regarding the terrorist financing threat, the necessary components of an effective strategy to address such financing activity, and current efforts to combat it.
Among other things, the Task Force took a more granular look at some less well-publicized terrorist financing methodologies, including: (i) the use of trade-based money laundering; (ii) the use of individual and corporate charitable foundations; (iii) the plundering of arts and antiquities by terrorists, especially by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS); and even (iv) drug trafficking.
Moreover, as explained by Task Force Chairman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Penn), the task force “discovered highly critical vulnerabilities” for which it presented several recommendations and called for further Congressional attention. Among other things, the report highlighted a need for:
- Better interagency coordination and resource allocation;
- Better use of and access to information that can identify illicit finance;
- Adding more overseas Treasury attachés;
- Continued attention to helping developing countries fight illicit finance;
- A greater domestic and international focus on stopping trade-based money laundering;
- Development of a harmonized regulatory and examination procedure for nonbank financial institutions – primarily money service businesses (MSB) but also emerging value transfer technologies – to squeeze out illicit finance and provide banks the comfort necessary for them to again widely offer MSB retail account services;
- Development of a whole-of-government strategy to combat terror finance and other forms of financial crimes; Beneficial ownership of corporate entities; and
- Re-animation of the interagency Terrorist Financing Working Group.
Notably, members of the Task Force have already introduced several bipartisan bills aimed at addressing some of the concerns identified in the report, including:
- H.R. 5594, the “National Strategy for Combatting Terrorists, Underground, and Other Illicit Financing Act,” which passed the House on July 11, 2016 by voice vote, and requires the President, acting through the Treasury Secretary, to develop and publish an annual whole-of-government strategy to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.
- H.R. 5602, which passed the House on July 11, 2016 by a vote of 356-47, requiring more detailed information to be reported to the Treasury regarding certain types of transactions in a specific area for a limited amount of time.
- H.R. 5607, the “Enhancing Treasury’s Anti-Terror Tools Act,” which passed the House on July 11, 2016 by a vote of 362-45, enhancing Treasury’s anti-illicit finance tools by addressing issues that came up repeatedly in Task Force Hearings.
- H.R. 5603, the “Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Act,” which is sponsored by Ranking Member Stephen Lynch (D-MA), and seeks to establish a reward program aimed at helping the U.S. identify, freeze, and, if appropriate, repatriate assets linked to foreign government corruption, which is often an enabler of terrorism.
- H.R. 5606, the “Anti-Terrorism Information Sharing Is Truth Act,” which is sponsored by Task Force Vice Chairman Pittenger (R-NC) and which seeks to refine “safe harbors” for the sharing of anti-terror information, reaffirming Congressional intent in existing statute to encourage government sharing of terror methodologies with banks to help them better recognize such activity.
On December 1, the U.S. Senate, by a 99-0 margin, passed a 10-year extension of the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) sending the measure to the White House and delaying any potentially tougher actions until next year. Originally approved in 1996, the extended bill passed onto the Senate in November with only one vote against it from the House. Congressional authority to enforce sanctions against Iran—which was due to expire on December 31 if not renewed—will be presented to President Barack Obama, who will decide whether to sign the bill into law in the coming days.
In a letter sent to CFPB Director Richard Cordray on December 1, a group of Republican members of Congress expressed concern about the Bureau’s proposal regarding payday, vehicle title, and certain high-cost installment loans. The letter observes that CFPB’s proposal “attempts to further regulate an industry that is already highly regulated by nearly a dozen federal laws including the Truth in Lending Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and the Electronic Funds Transfer Act.” Specifically, the letter contends that the CFPB’s framework will effectively preempt existing statutory and regulatory frameworks and/or eliminate regulated small dollar credit products from the market, thereby leaving consumers without access to credit or forcing them to seek “riskier, illegal” forms of credit.