by Jeff Sovern
Yesterday I blogged about senatorial votes on consumer protection (a more succinct version of the special report can be found in the American Banker). During the period we studied--2009 to 2012--Congress voted on two major consumer protection bills, the Credit CARD Act of 2009 and the Dodd-Frank Act. But other votes were much less high-profile. They included, for example, procedural votes and a vote on overturning the exportation doctrine, which enables lenders to use the less-restrictive usury laws of the state in which they are based rather than the more-limiting usury law of the state in which the consumer resides. Not exactly the stuff typical consumers monitor. Conceivably, senators who wanted to impress their constituents as protective of consumers would have voted for consumers on the higher-profile bills and for financial institutions on votes that would have escaped attention from consumers. Voting for financial institutions might elicit larger campaign contributions so that senators could simultaneously claim the mantle of consumer protector while also generating campaign contributions. If that were so, we would expect to see consumer protection voting scores would change when the votes on the Credit CARD Act and Dodd-Frank Act are excluded. In fact, we do see some change in the voting patterns, but not much. Democrats still voted for consumers on under-the-radar votes 88% of the time (an increase from 86% when all votes are counted) while GOP senators had an average score of 9% (down from 12% when all votes are included). That suggests that the Democrats are voting not to obtain campaign contributions but because of ideology or other factors and that Republicans are, by and large, not voting differently when consumers might be watching.
But we do see one change: on the under-the-radar votes, every Democratic senator is more protective of consumers than every Republican senator. On the table that includes all the votes, posted yesterday, now-defeated Senator Scott Brown of Massachussetts voted more often for consumers than two Democatic senators.
The under-the-radar voting table appears below.