Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray testifies on the Hill.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray testifies on the Hill. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP file photo

House Oversight Panel Probes Consumer Bureau’s Advertising Strategy

Bipartisan group of lawmakers seeks documents on $12.5 million contract.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s recently disclosed $12.5 million advertising contract is under the scrutiny of a bipartisan group of lawmakers on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

In a June 24 letter to CFPB Director Richard Cordray,  the lawmakers cited a recent Wall Street Journal report drawn from detailing the bureau’s ad expenditures that put it in the top three highest-spending agencies in that area.

The letter requested, by July 8, details on each CFPB advertising contract from fiscal 2014 through fiscal 2016, its purpose and “justification for why these advertising contracts are deemed consistent with the CFPB’s mission.” It was signed by oversight panel Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio; Elijah Cummings, D-Md. (the panel’s ranking member); and Matt Cartwright, D-Pa.

The Senate Budget Committee has also shown interest in the broader issue of agency ad spending. In February the panel asked the Government Accountability Office to examine all agency spending on ads and public relations. A 2014 Congressional Research Service report found agencies spent $893 million on advertising contracts in fiscal 2013, and nearly $4.7 billion in fiscal years 2009 through 2013

The consumer bureau—which many Republicans have long opposed and sought to restructure--has defended its use of advertising as a way for a new agency to engage people it serves. CFPB’s online ads steer consumers to the agency’s website student loan page, for example, so “students can see now what they’ll owe later, causing fewer headaches when they start their careers.” When mortgage loan shoppers type “closing costs” into common search engines, they will encounter CFPB ads.

“We have received the letter and will work with the committee to support its oversight efforts,” CFPB spokesman Sam Gilford said.