Before President Bush left office, Representative Marcy Kaptur visited then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. and presented him with a list of all of the people in her district whose properties had been foreclosed. Although each page included four columns of names, the full list still stretched all the way down the steps of the Treasury Building to the street below when unfurled.
Kaptur was able to get the administration to form a task force composed of representatives from several agencies who were supposed to work with local stakeholders to address the foreclosure crisis.
“They came from all the agencies, and they talked,” she says. “It was like a car with four wheels and they are all going in a different direction. They were nice people and then they all left. So that task force didn’t really accomplish anything.”
In contrast, Kaptur hasn’t relented in her fight.
Two months ago, at a hearing on how minority populations are coping with the financial meltdown, she distinguished herself with a laser-like focus on the foreclosure crisis. She was interested in the ability of state attorneys general to share information with one another when investigating banks for mortgage fraud. She discussed her efforts to increase the number of federal prosecutors and agents working on the issue. Above all, she wanted justice for victims of predatory lending and deceptive mortgage practices.
Since then, in addition to a starring role in Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story (and the filmmaker’s endorsing her for a presidential ticket in an interview with Nation columnist Naomi Klein), Kaptur has continued to advocate for homeowners and those who have lost their homes, and taken Congress and the administration to task for failing to act boldly to help those who are struggling.
I recently spoke with her about her fight, valuable lessons learned during her twenty-seven years serving in Congress, and the prospects for broad financial reform.
Greg Kaufmann: Tell me about the importance of an amendment you tried to introduce–to the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill in June–regarding agents and prosecutors investigating mortgage fraud.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur: Mortgage fraud is at the heart of the housing crisis, which is at the heart of the financial crisis. After 9/11, the FBI redeployed financial special agents to anti-terrorism, but they have yet to replace those agents in the White Collar Crime Division–even though the division had warned in 2004 of the threat of a mortgage fraud “epidemic.” We were under the understanding that [the Department of] Justice was under 200 prosecutors and investigative agents in the area of mortgage and securities fraud, and so we were pushing to increase that number. Our goal was 1,000 agents–we didn’t come anywhere near close to that–but 1,000 agents is the number that were in place during the savings and loan crisis back in the late eighties. So our idea was to try to ratchet up the number. We got a couple dozen more agents in the bill with the promise of the chairman to try to work on this in conference [with the Senate]. The bill hasn’t gone to conference yet so the House side hasn’t yet been able to expand the number of agents.