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Otting Appalled By Community Reinvestment Act Questions Amid FOIA Complaints by Inner City Press

By Matthew Russell Lee, Patreon Thread
BBC - Guardian UK - Honduras - CJR - PFT

SOUTH BRONX / DC, Jan 29 –   The current US Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting belatedly took questions from House members on January 29 about his Community Reinvestment Act proposal - and quickly declared the questions "appalling."

   Otting began by insisting he will not provide any more than the 60 day comment period - this so that his proposal could avoid the Congressional Review Act. It went downhill from there. Fair Finance Watch live-tweeted thread here:

Otting begins by telling Rep Waters he will NOT extend the comment period.   The reason? As Inner City Press has reported, to avoid Congressional Review Act if/when Republicans lose the Senate

Otting used his five minutes to play up where he was born in Iowa, and to use his spouse. Now he says the Federal Reserve not signing on to his proposal is just Lael. That's not how the Federal Reserve Board works

Will Otting be asked about the counterfeit comments that went in to support his selling of OneWest to CIT? About his lawless denial of #FOIA requests and fee waiver requests since at OCC? To refusing public comment on 5/3 charter conversion, and Chinatown FSB?

 Now Rep Waters asks "given all of the work you did with OneWest Bank, you have never observed discrimination?"  Otting: My family has told me about it.  Waters: Today I'm telling you about it.

Now Rep McHenry starts by saying doesn't CRA need to be modernized since 1995?  But does that mean let Otting weaken it? As he already has, ignoring public comments? That's key here: CRA is enforced on public comments on merger applications and Otting buries those

 Rep Velasquez just asked Otting if he will share info with the Committee. Otting dodges, then says, "I'd come by your office, but not to the public."  Otting is also destroying FOIA compliance at OCC.  Rep Velasquez says, Let's subpoena it. And release to public? Rep Sherman tells Otting his refusal to extend the comment period show so much contempt including for the Committee that why should they listen to him on LIBOR? Why indeed.

Otting brags that OCC and FDIC control 85% of banking. But CRA is enforced on mergers, most of which have bank holding companies so the applications go to the Fed. And Otting just throws CRA comments into the garbage can, is our experience...

Rep. Scott tells Otting that "even Banks" are concerned about his proposal, that regulation cannot be "my way or the highway." Tells Otting he misrepresented the Federal Reserve's position, and skipped previous hearing. Asks, Why are you doing this? #OneWest

 Otting: "I find somewhat appalling some of the comments you have made to me... How many years do you want this to go on?" For what to go on - the already not strong enough CRA process? Or Otting's world of no-FOIA, no merger comments, retaliation and lawlessness?

 Otting has never visited the office of Rep Clay, tells him that the race discrimination issues he has raised are not relevant under the Community Reinvestment Act.  Oh.

Otting cashed out of his position with OneWest Bank in California by overseeing fake comments in favor its acquisition by the CIT Group.

   Then, emboldened, he devoted the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to weakening or destroying the Community Reinvestment Act which provides for the public process that he subverted with fake comments.

   Inner City Press, which along with CRC opposed the merger and then pursued a Freedom of Information Act request for all documents about Otting's fraud, soon found its and Fair Finance Watch's comments to the OCC being rejected, or ignored, or returned. 

  While Inner City Press' FOIA requests get fee waivers from the Federal Reserve and a range of agencies in the US and beyond, Otting's OCC suddenly started denying them, hindering access to the merger applications on which CRA is enforced.   

Otting is trying to push through this CRA-killing proposal on a short comment period, cognizant of the other CRA, the Congressioal Review Act. But it is obvious that even banks want more time.

On January 26, in advance of Otting's belated January 29 House of Representatives appearance, Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch submitted a formal comment, including: January 26, 2020  Re: Docket ID OCC-2018-0008 &  - total opposition to OCC/FDIC plan to weaken CRA 

To whom it may concern at the OCC and FDIC: On behalf of Fair Finance Watch, and Inner City Press, and in my personal capacity, this is a timely comment opposing the proposal by Comptroller Joseph Otting and the FDIC to weaken the CRA.

Enforcing the CRA including through commenting to the Federal Reserve and FDIC, and OCC under previous Comptrollers, the results have been new bank branches in the South Bronx, and lending and consumer protection commitments well beyond.  Some advocacy, from 2001, here;  2002 here (Wells Fargo);  jump cut to 2015, here (due to 5000 character restriction)  and more  

But since Otting became Comptroller, we have seen timely comments ignored, and been denied access to bank merger applications by a retaliatory imposition of FOIA fees. The Federal Reserve and other federal agencies, like the OCC pre-Otting, grant Inner City Press FOIA fee waivers. Under Otting, the OCC does not.

On Chinatown FSB, the OCC refused to consider a timely comment. The OCC unilaterally determined not to accept public comments on a major bank's charter conversion application, which it rubber stamped.  This has been rogue-like behavior. It is in keeping with our experience with Otting when, as head of One West, he oversaw false comments submitted to regulators to support One West's merger with CIT. People wrote it and said they had not commented; the regulators asked Otting's OneWest's counsel - and there the trail of evidence ends, for now. See, for the record (including the record on this timely request that Otting be recused and the proposal withdrawn), here.

  In 2020 we are aware of the OCC calling community groups looking to be able to say they didn't authorize their sign-ons. Well, we proudly signed onto NCRC's letter(s). And for now, in advance of Otting's January 29 House appearance, we re-affirm these views:   Under the NPRM, the definition of affordable housing is relaxed to include middle-income housing in high-cost areas. In addition, housing is assumed to be affordable if lower-income people can afford to pay the rent without verifying that lower-income people will be tenants. Essential infrastructure such as bridges is added as an activity eligible for community development but clearly estimating the benefit to LMI populations of such large-scale projects is difficult and likely to result in ratings inflation as well as diverting funding from community development directly in LMI communities...

Absurdly, the proposal would grant CRA credit for work on stadia, for example. The proposal must be withdrawn.  In short, we are totally opposed to Otting's and the FDIC's proposals and think for the reasons set forth above, including actions at OneWest and more recently trying to intimidate community groups, Otting must be recused and the proposal withdrawn. We will have further comments.  Matthew R Lee Fair Finance Watch (and Inner City Press) New York. Watch this site. 


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