New Report: CFPB Official Who Worked for Anti-LGBT Hate Group May Soon Have Power to Exempt Companies from Anti-Discrimination Laws

CLICK HERE for New Report from Allied Progress on How CFPB Office of Innovation Director Paul Watkins’ Ugly Anti-Equality Connections Could Be Reflected in His Official Work

Washington D.C.– Ahead of Tuesday’s congressional hearing on fintech regulation, consumer watchdog group Allied Progress released a new report on how Paul Watkins, Director of the CFPB’s Office of Innovation, has hidden his past work for an anti-LGBT hate group and could soon have the authority to exempt businesses from compliance with anti-discrimination laws under the bureau’s “no-action” letter initiative. Watkins, who was tapped last year by then-Acting Director Mick Mulvaney to “regulate” the fintech industry, previously worked as an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, a Southern Law Poverty Center-designated hate group who among other things has defended “state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad.” Allied Progress called on CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger to reconsider the CFPB’s decision to put someone who worked to legalize discrimination against the LGBT community in charge of crucial regulations on businesses.

“Paul Watkins may keep a low profile in the Trump administration, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have any power,” said Jeremy Funk, spokesman for Allied Progress. “The fact that someone with such deplorable beliefs could be in a position to influence which laws companies have to follow and which they can ignore is troubling. Congress needs to ensure the CFPB is following its mission to protect all consumers regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Handing out Get Out of Jail Free cards to every business that wants to violate anti-discrimination laws would be anathema to that mission. Director Kraninger should immediately review Mr. Watkins’ ties to a hate group and make clear whether those are the values she wants represented at the CFPB.” 

KEY FINDINGS FROM THE REPORT:

  • Paul Watkins is a conservative ideologue who has deep ties to anti-LGBT causes throughout his career. Watkins’ conservative credentials go back to his undergraduate years at Hillsdale College, consistently ranked by the Princeton Review as one of the least LGBT-friendly schools in the country. In law school, Watkins participated in the Blackstone Legal Fellowship, a program run by Alliance Defending Freedom, which he later worked for as an attorney.
  • Alliance Defending Freedom is an anti-LGBT hate group that has worked to legalize discrimination against the LGBT community. (That might be why Watkins left it off his LinkedIn profile.) Watkins was employed by the group while it worked with the State of Arizona to legalize discrimination against LGBT individuals and ban same-sex marriage. He took a job in the Arizona Attorney’s General Office (which employed numerous alums of the hate group), where his new boss signed an amicus brief in support of Masterpiece Cakeshop, the business that wanted to discriminate against same-sex couples in the landmark Supreme Court case—which happened to be represented by Watkins’ former colleagues at Alliance Defending Freedom.
  • Today, Watkins is behind the CFPB’s efforts to exempt businesses from consumer protection regulations, including crucial anti-discrimination laws like the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, even though there is strong bipartisan and corporate support for expanding civil rights laws to include protections for LGBT individuals. The CFPB is responsible for protecting all consumers, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity—and Paul Watkins must be prevented from putting industry wishes and personal beliefs ahead of that mission. Since beinginstalled by Mick Mulvaney last year to slash regulations as head of the CFPB’s Office of Innovation, Watkins has spearheaded the bureau’s no-action letter initiative, which would allow him to exempt industry from anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT consumers.The CFPB’s ‘No-Action’ letter proposal would make the recipient “immune from enforcement actions by any Federal or State authorities, as well as from lawsuits brought by private parties.”

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