US Senate Democrats' choice for FTC has consumer protection background

20 October 2017 1:13pm
Rohit Chopra

9 May 2017. By Claude Marx.

Rohit Chopra, the choice of US Senate Democrats for one of the vacant US Federal Trade Commission posts, has a strong background in consumer protection — especially concerning higher education issues — but no experience on the antitrust side.

He was assistant director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where he led some of the agency's efforts to go after student loan servicers who it believed were taking advantage of students.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer announced Tuesday that his caucus is recommending Chopra to President Donald Trump for one of the three vacancies on the FTC.

"The Federal Trade Commission should be led by people who put the interests of consumers above all else, and that's what Rohit Chopra has done his entire life. Whether it was fighting on behalf of students and borrowers with student loan issues at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or working to protect the finances of our nation's veterans, Rohit has been a thoughtful and effective advocate for consumers,'' the New York Democrat said in a statement.

One of the FTC's vacancies must be filled by a non-Republican, according to provisions of the FTC Act. While past presidents have deferred to the Senate leader of the other party when selecting people to fill some agency positions, they are not obligated to do so.

Chopra's connection to the CFPB, where he worked from 2010 to 2015, could be a problem for the Trump administration and Senate Republicans, who would lead the confirmation process. Republicans on Capitol Hill have sought to curtail the power of the bureau, which they claim has reduced access to credit since it was created by the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010.

During part of 2016, he was a special adviser to then-US Secretary of Education John King on student loan issues.

While Chopra's consumer protection bona fides are strong, he has no experience with competition issues. That is not unprecedented, and commissioners often rely on staff to compensate for their lack of expertise in a particular area.

The Trump administration did not respond to emails seeking comment on Schumer's recommendation. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune, whose committee is responsible for confirming nominees to the FTC, through a spokesman declined comment.

While Chopra was at the CFPB, the agency filed suit against the for-profit Corinthian Colleges, alleging deceptive practices, which resulted in a federal judge ordering them to repay $531 million — including reimbursement of student loans made by private lenders — to former students.

This and other efforts won Chopra praise from consumer advocates, such as Ed Mierzwinski, the consumer program director of US PIRG.

"He has worked relentlessly on responding to endemic student loan servicing violations that harm student borrowers, including veterans. I look forward to working with him as an FTC commissioner; he'll keep doing the good -- and fact-based -- judicious work he's demonstrated he knows how to do, only this time on behalf of all consumers,'' Mierzwinski wrote in an email.

Chopra, who has a bachelor's degree from Harvard University and an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania and worked for the consulting firm McKinsey and Company before joining the CFPB, would be a rare non-lawyer on the FTC. The last FTC commissioner who didn't have a law degree was Orson Swindle, a Republican named by President Bill Clinton, who served from 1997 to 2005.

The FTC is currently operating with two commissioners: acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen, a Republican who is in the mix to get the job permanently, and Terrell McSweeny, a Democrat.

The three vacancies were created by the departures of former FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez and former FTC Commissioners Julie Brill and Joshua Wright. Ramirez and Brill held Democratic seats and Wright held a Republican slot.

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