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  • Transparency in City Spending | PennPIRG
    deepen its commitment to providing information on tax expenditures These three cities allow residents to monitor their city s responses to all service requests submitted online and to access service request data through a download feature or application programming interface API Advancing cities B range Five cities Baltimore Cincinnati Denver San Antonio and Washington DC have made government spending information available online but the data are either slightly more limited or more difficult to access than the spending data in Leading cities Emerging cities C range Nine cities have made efforts to open the books on government spending but have checkbook tools that lack the ease of use of Advancing and Leading cities and provide less information on spending through the tax code Lagging cities D range Eight cities provide residents with basic spending documents such as the budget and Comprehensive Annual Financial Report CAFR a document that reports on the city s actual spending and financial solvency All lagging cities also provide residents with service request portals However these cities provide little other spending information Failing cities F range Five cities have made minimal progress in meeting Transpare ncy 2 0 standards These cities provide very little information beyond the data on the budget and CAFR No Failing city provides residents with an on line checkbook of the city s expenses keeping citizens in the dark on which companies and non profits receive taxpayer funds Table ES 1 How America s 30 Largest Cities Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending and Service Request Data Some cities have gone above and beyond basic Transparency 2 0 standards They have developed new tools and posted new sets of information on government expenditures giving residents the unprecedented ability to monitor and influence how their government allocates resources Tax revenue data A few cities have taken steps to disclose details on how much the city government collects in taxes from various sources Tampa posts the amount of business tax paid by every company in the city and Portland OR posts property tax amounts for every parcel along with the property s worth Conflict of interest prevention Pittsburgh empowers watchdog groups and residents to prevent conflicts of interest by requiring mayors and city councilors to file reports which are published online detailing their connections to all businesses and corporate entities properties creditors and debtors Performance metrics Some cities such as Boston Minneapolis and Seattle provide detailed performance evaluations of government services and departments to enable citizens to assess how citizen needs are being met and how city leaders are investing taxpayer dollars All cities including Leading cities have many opportunities to improve their online spending transparency Thirteen of the cities have yet to provide online databases of government expenditures with checkbook level detail As checkbook level spending information is a basic standard of Transparency 2 0 these cities should prioritize posting their checkbooks online Out of the 17 cities that provide checkbook databases six have not made their checkbooks searchable and eight

    Original URL path: http://www.pennpirg.org/reports/pap/transparency-city-spending (2016-04-27)
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  • Elections Confidential | PennPIRG
    the sources of their funding funneled at least 17 million to Super PACs in the 2012 elections Nearly seventeen percent of all business contributions to Super PACs came from identified shell corporations Dark money nonprofits reported spending over 299 million in the 2012 election however because these groups ran issue ads that need only be reported when aired just before primaries or election day the total spending by these nonprofits is certainly much higher than was reported to the FEC Crossroads GPS for example told the FEC that it spent just under 71 million in the 2012 election cycle but it actually spent more than twice as much as was reported topping at least 165 million Dark money nonprofits which are not supposed to have electoral intervention as a primary activity will justify their tax exempt status in the post election period by engaging in activities like lobbying Incredibly this qualifies as advancing the social welfare A dark money group s lobbying clout is amplified by the fact that come election time they can back an uncooperative lawmaker s primary challenger With both dark money nonprofits and shell corporations it is almost impossible to identify violations of election or tax law such as the infiltration of foreign funds Read Billion Dollar Democracy our full report on outside spending in the 2012 election cyclye and Outside Spending Outsized Influence about outside spending in the New Jersey House and Senate races Search form Search About Issues Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics Campaign for Safe Energy Democracy For The People Stop the Highway Boondoggles Close Corporate Tax Loopholes Making Health Care Work Protecting Consumers Label GMO Foods Reining in Wall Street Act Now Jobs Donate Newsroom Resources Reports Get our RSS feed Our Affiliates Our Sister c 3 Are you a student Our

    Original URL path: http://www.pennpirg.org/reports/pap/elections-confidential (2016-04-27)
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  • Court Reinstates Case Against Bank That Aided Senior Citizen Fraud | PennPIRG
    aim at banks role in giving predatory lenders and fraudulent merchants access to the United States financial system The department is considering civil and criminal actions against a number of banks for allowing tainted money to flow through branches for failing to safeguard against suspicious merchants and for originating transactions on behalf of businesses that they know make unauthorized withdrawals from customer accounts according to people with direct knowledge of the matter You can t close your eyes anymore to the fraud that you are allowing to happen said Michael Blume the director of the consumer protection branch at the Justice Department Banks are in business to make a profit Unfortunately this is a moneymaking operation at consumers expense Because the banks and payment processors were seen as a bottleneck or choke point since the fraudsters needed online bank accounts to conduct their schemes and because banks have a variety of duties under law to protect their customers deposits from fraud and prevent money laundering are a few the strategy made a great deal of sense Yet somehow opponents of consumer protection acting in concert with some conservative web sites have created a false narrative that the true targets of U S DOJ s Operation Choke Point are legitimate gun dealers and payday lenders not thieves Our colleague Lauren Saunders of the National Consumer Law Center has done superhero work to correct the record in guest columns and Congressional hearings As she told the House Judiciary Committee this spring on behalf of NCLC U S PIRG Americans for Financial Reform the Center for Responsible Lending and the Consumer Federation of America Operation Choke Point stops fraud Many fraudsters rely on banks and third party payment processors to enable them to take money from consumers accounts Banks and payment processors can enable fraud and often they can stop it The three cases that DOJ has brought through Operation Choke Point prove that DOJ is focusing only on banks that willfully ignore blatant signs of illegal activity No one has defended the egregious conduct of any of the banks targeted Reports that banks have closed the accounts of legal businesses have little or nothing to do with Operation Choke Point Complaints about account closures go back a decade since passage of the 2001 Patriot Act with its anti money laundering rules Bills such as H R 766 Luetkemeyer the Financial Institution Customer Protection Act of 2015 H R 1413 Schweikert the Firearms Manufacturers and Dealers Protection Act of 2015 and similar bills would make it harder for DOJ and other government agencies to protect the public It is disappointing that many on the hill have bought into the false narrative that somehow the U S DOJ the FDIC the FTC and of course the CFPB which the public supports but Wall Street and payday lenders oppose are not doing their jobs but instead going after gun dealers They aren t going after gun dealers they are going after fraudsters who target seniors

    Original URL path: http://www.pennpirg.org/blogs/eds-blog/usp/court-reinstates-case-against-bank-aided-senior-citizen-fraud-0 (2016-04-27)
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  • IRS Admits Data Breach Worse Than Thought, Will Congress Do Wrong Thing Anyway? | PennPIRG
    drug treatment or extra marital affairs or arrest records whether or not charged or convicted In her comments on a recent enforcement action against data brokers selling consumer files to wrongdoers Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Consumer Protection director Jessica Rich told the New York Times There is a debate about whether invasions of privacy harm consumers Jessica Rich the director of the the agency s Bureau of Consumer Protection said in a phone interview This is a clear cut example where the sale of sensitive data caused considerable harm to consumers We agree with Jessica Rich Privacy harms are real As we said in June Instead of narrowing the scope of consumer harms that are actionable in privacy breaches as nearly very breach notice proposal before Congress would any legislation if it is passed nationally must recognize the broader panoply of harms that federal employees their friends partners and co workers taxpayers and health insurance customers are already facing If Congress can t do something that actually benefits the public it should do nothing Our recent data breach testimony to Congress is here Our group letter opposing weak federal data breach and data security proposals that also override stronger state laws is here Our recent blog offering tips to victims of any breach including information on your best protection against financial identity theft the security freeze is here In July after a medical data breach Indiana attorney general Greg Zoeller urged all Hoosiers to place a security freeze In Indiana a security freeze is free by law for anyone at any time in many states it is only free for identity theft not breach victims If Congress really wanted to get ahead of the curve and protect consumers it too would pass a law providing free security freezes at

    Original URL path: http://www.pennpirg.org/blogs/eds-blog/usp/irs-admits-data-breach-worse-thought-will-congress-do-wrong-thing-anyway (2016-04-27)
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  • House To Vote On Godzilla-Sized Rule Blocker, As Financial Committee Considers Smaller Rollbacks | PennPIRG
    another attempt to restrict the Department of Justice s Operation Choke Point or bank regulator efforts to prevent money laundering and payment system fraud Worse it uses a bludgeon approach by attacking the Financial Institutions Reform Recovery and Enforcement Act FIRREA a 25 year old law enacted after the late 1980s savings and loan law scandal most famously characterized by the Lincoln Savings and Loan CEO Charles Keating s targeting of the meek and ignorant for shoddy investments The bill before the House would amend FIRREA to eliminate penalties for and investigative authority into unlawful conduct affecting federally insured financial institutions Instead agencies could only penalize or investigate illegal conduct against a financial institution or by the institution against a third party In other words DOJ could not use FIRREA authority to look into signs that a bank is knowingly helping scammers to take money out of the accounts of seniors because the scammers are not targeting the bank and the bank is not targeting the senior Meanwhile over on the House floor The House will today or tomorrow take up the REINS Act Fortunately the President has promised a veto The Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny REINS Act HR 427 is not as cute as its name It more accurately should be called the Godzilla of all anti health and safety bills The REINS Act would require that both the House and Senate first approve any major agency regulation or it never takes effect The idea has been around for years but fortunately never gained any traction in the Senate Fortunately the White House has issued a Statement of Administration Policy containing a strong veto threat This radical departure from the longstanding separation of powers between the Executive and Legislative branches would delay and in many cases thwart implementation of statutory mandates and execution of duly enacted laws create business uncertainty undermine much needed protections of the American public and cause unnecessary confusion There is no justification for such an unprecedented requirement When a Federal agency promulgates a major rule it must already adhere to the particular requirements of the statute that it is implementing and to the constraints imposed by other Federal statutes and the Constitution Indeed in many cases the Congress has mandated that the agency issue the particular rule Proponents of REINS and a number of similar redundant bills being pushed by a coalition led by the Chamber of Commerce that alleges agencies are running amok and crippling businesses with red tape But as the presidential SAP continues In addition this Administration has already taken numerous steps to reduce regulatory costs and to ensure that all major regulations are designed to maximize net benefits to society Executive Order 13563 requires careful cost benefit analysis public participation harmonization of rulemaking across agencies flexible regulatory approaches and a regulatory retrospective review In addition Executive Order 13610 further institutionalizes retrospective review by requiring agencies to report regularly on the ways in which they are identifying and

    Original URL path: http://www.pennpirg.org/blogs/eds-blog/usp/house-vote-godzilla-sized-rule-blocker-financial-committee-considers-smaller (2016-04-27)
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  • The CFPB is 4 years old and has a lot to show for it! | PennPIRG
    who will receive relief because of CFPB enforcement actions 650 000 Complaints CFPB has received as of June 2015 Although the Four years blog entry has a lot of information about the CFPB I recommend that people read a speech Director Cordray gave late last year where he clearly articulates the CFPB s strategic vision First he explained the scope of the CFPB s work Whatever you may think of government regulation it cannot work to oversee only part of the marketplace and leave other parts untouched Some nonbank firms were overseen at the state level but the resulting system was inconsistent and incomplete Our aim and our duty is to change that Accordingly Congress gave the Bureau regulatory supervisory and enforcement authorities to fix these parallel and conflicting worlds of the banks and the nonbanks This means that we can write the rules We enforce those rules and all federal consumer financial laws And we supervise entities we conduct internal examinations visit institutions require reports from them and open up their books and operations to scrutiny He then went on to describe a key focus of the CFPB s work in solving obstacles to consumer justice and dignity that he called the 4 Ds Robert F Kennedy once said The challenge of politics and public service is to discover what is interfering with justice and dignity for the individual here and now and then to decide swiftly upon the appropriate remedies Over our brief lifespan the Consumer Bureau has observed some obstacles that interfere with justice and dignity for consumers obstacles that we refer to as the four Ds They are problems we see much too often deceptive marketing debt traps dead end markets and discrimination Perhaps the problems posed by three of these obstacles are clear deceptive marketing debt traps and discrimination But what is a dead end market A dead end market is where consumers have no choices where they cannot vote with their feet A consumer can pick a new bank or credit union or even choose a payday lender But a consumer has no choice when it comes to credit bureaus powerful gatekeepers to financial and employment opportunity And a consumer has no choice when it comes to dealing with a debt collector especially one that s a murky debt buyer trying to collect an old debt it purchased from some other debt collector The CFPB s first monthly complaint report released at AFR s event last week listed Equifax 1 and Experian 2 These big credit bureaus led all types of financial firms in total complaints We have seen the CFPB make important strides in bring the credit bureaus to heel in particular by urging them a rule was not even necessary just a suggestion to fully comply with the law by sharing consumer provided backup materials with creditors during dispute reinvestigations PIRG s report on debt collection complaints to the CFPB found that the number one complaint was It s not me Monthly

    Original URL path: http://www.pennpirg.org/blogs/eds-blog/usp/cfpb-4-years-old-and-has-lot-show-it (2016-04-27)
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  • How the CFPB’s Data Keeps Getting Better and Better | PennPIRG
    prepared and oral remarks Director Cordray discussed the power of the database and gave us a shout out If we can help spur competition based on consumer satisfaction this has the potential to improve the functioning transparency and efficiency of the financial marketplace We have seen how PIRG and others are already beginning to scorecard companies based on this data and we want to encourage more of that At this event Director Cordray and Darian Dorsey Chief of Staff for the CFPB s Office of Consumer Response also announced that the bureau was launching a new monthly report of their own summarizing the number of complaints and the worst companies in the database Ms Dorsey s at left announcement was the second big improvement this year by the CFPB based on our recommendations In June the CFPB began publishing the written descriptions of consumer complaints in the database Having access to these stories will make future analysis of the data more robust as explained further in our news release last month Following the presentations by Director Cordray and Darian Dorsey an expert panel o f AFR members discussed the work of the CFPB It included Nancy Zirkin of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Lauren Saunders of the National Consumer Law Center Mike Calhoun of the Center for Responsible Lending Pam Banks of Consumers Union and Ruth Susswein of Consumer Action Watch the AFR website Events tab at top A video of the CFPB at 4 event should be posted soon Consumer Protection Search form Search About Issues Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics Campaign for Safe Energy Democracy For The People Stop the Highway Boondoggles Close Corporate Tax Loopholes Making Health Care Work Protecting Consumers Label GMO Foods Reining in Wall Street Act Now Jobs Donate Newsroom Resources

    Original URL path: http://www.pennpirg.org/blogs/blog/usp/how-cfpb%E2%80%99s-data-keeps-getting-better-and-better (2016-04-27)
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  • PennPIRG | Standing Up To Powerful Interests
    and livelihoods would be at risk if so called regulatory reform proposals were to become law slowing or stopping the regulatory process Keep Reading News Release PennPIRG Education Fund Budget PA Receives a B on Government Transparency Philadelphia PA March 14 Pennsylvania received a B when it comes to government spending transparency according to Following the Money 2012 How the States Rank on Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data the third annual report of its kind by the Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group PennPIRG Keep Reading Pages first previous 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 next last Report PennPIRG Education Fund Budget Caution Red Light Cameras Ahead Before pursuing a camera system contract local governments should heed the advice of the Federal Highway Administration and first investigate traffic engineering solutions for problem intersections or roadways If officials decide that private enforcement systems are appropriate they should avoid deals that constrain future decisions related to protecting safety Privatized traffic law enforcement should be used solely as a tool for enhancing traffic safety not as a cash cow for municipalities or private firms Keep Reading Report PennPIRG Education Fund Health Care Making the Grade When it comes to health care there are few magic bullet solutions for the many problems consumers face in the marketplace insurers don t compete for their business leading to higher prices and lower quality Important information about coverage is buried in the fine print making it hard to know what s really covered or which plan is right And costs are continuing their unsustainable rise Keep Reading Report PennPIRG Education Fund Budget Transportation Fixing It First America s infrastructure is showing its age Our nation s roads highways and bridges have increasingly received failing scores on maintenance and upkeep For the nation s bridges lack of maintenance can result in the sudden closure of a critical transportation link or far worse a collapse that results in lost lives and a significant loss in regional economic productivity Keep Reading Report PennPIRG Education Fund Food Apples to Twinkies The rise in childhood obesity has many causes but one of the most important is the increased prevalence of high fat heavily sweetened junk food And shockingly American taxpayers are spending billions to subsidize junk food ingredients making the problem worse Keep Reading Report PennPIRG and National Taxpayers Union Budget Toward Common Ground To break through the ideological divide that has dominated Washington this past year and offer a pathway to address the nation s fiscal problems the National Taxpayers Union and U S PIRG joined together to identify mutually acceptable deficit reduction measures This report documents our findings Keep Reading Pages first previous 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 next last Blog Post Consumer Protection 50 YEARS AGO THIS WEEK JFK USHERED IN MODERN CONSUMER PROTECTION ERA Alana Miller Ed Mierzwinski People of almost any age know a lot about the Kennedy administration with its optimistic beginnings and its sudden tragic end Yet

    Original URL path: http://www.pennpirg.org/home?page=11 (2016-04-27)
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