The consumer watchdog and former gubernatorial candidate on his new book, payday loans, Elizabeth Warren and why he's backing Joyce Beatty in March

Even though it’s been more than two years since he left Washington, D.C., Richard Cordray’s six-year tenure as one of the country’s most powerful financial regulators still evokes strong feelings among conservatives and banking interests. Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal editorial page likened the mild-mannered former Jeopardy! champion to Lord Voldemort, suggesting that some of Cordray’s former employees at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are continuing to follow his ideas in exile, like the death eaters in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. 

“The Wall Street Journal editorial page was never a fan of mine and believes in an untrammeled free market, but the financial crisis of 2008 showed us how disastrous that approach can be in hurting millions of blameless Americans who lost their jobs and much of their retirement savings,” Cordray says.

Whether you consider him a practitioner of economic black magic or a hero of the middle class, most can agree that Cordray turned the CFPB into a rare thing in Washington—a powerful financial oversight agency—reining in banks, debt collectors and other institutions and collecting billions of dollars in fines. In his new book, “Watchdog,” the Grove City resident writes about his time at the CFPB, an idea originally conceived by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whom Cordray is now backing in the Democratic presidential primary.

Like Warren, the CFPB helped turn Cordray into a progressive hero in some circles, and in November 2017, he stepped down from the agency to run for Ohio governor. He lost that race to Republican Mike DeWine, and President Trump replaced Cordray at the CFPB with the business-friendly Kathy Kraninger. In advance of a Feb. 27 Gramercy Books-sponsored event at the Bexley Public Library, Cordray answered questions from Columbus Monthly via email about his book, politics, the CFPB and more.

Why did you decide to write this book?

It's an important story about consumer life in America, how consumer finance is changing our lives and the importance of having the government stand on the side of regular people and their families to ensure they are treated fairly and protect them against predators and others who mistreat them. It's also about making government work for the 99 percent of Americans and not just the top 1 percent.

What do you think of the current state of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau?

The Consumer Bureau is now here to stay, as even a dedicated foe such as Mick Mulvaney recently acknowledged. The bureau continues to do much of its work as intended, though it is deeply regrettable that it has pulled back and retreated from vigorous enforcement of the law and strong regulatory efforts to rein in predatory financial behavior.

What is the biggest threat that consumers are facing right now in the U.S.?

There are many threats and challenges that consumers face—from abuses by debt collectors to a growing mountain of student loan debt to hacked personal information in credit reports, among other things. And new threats and challenges can pop up any day.

Ohio enacted a payday lending reform law last year to crack down on the industry following a failed attempt a decade earlier. Is this new law finally succeeding in putting some controls on predatory lending in Ohio?

The new payday lending law in Ohio is putting some new controls on the industry, and it would work appropriately in tandem with the CFPB's "ability to repay" rule for payday lenders that the current leadership in Washington is seeking to overturn.

Why are you backing Elizabeth Warren for president?

I worked closely with Elizabeth Warren and know her well. She would be a terrific president with sensible plans to improve life for Americans and the proven ability to get things done and bring the kind of change we need to bolster the middle class in this country.

Your former CFPB employee Morgan Harper is challenging U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty in a March primary. Whom do you support in that race?

I know and like them both, but I am backing Joyce Beatty for the effective leadership she brings for all of us in Central Ohio.

Your son Danny inherited your gift as a trivia master, leading his Grove City Crossing high school In the Know team to statewide victory. Does Danny want to follow your footsteps on Jeopardy! as well?

We'll see—that's up to him. As for myself, I love the Jeopardy! show and its iconic host, Alex Trebek.

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