COLUMBUS — Richard Cordray was in his native Grove City to kick off a "kitchen table" campaign for Ohio governor in which he intends to highlight the economic insecurities facing Ohioans along with ways to address them. He joins four others who already have been vetted by the Ohio Democratic Party to vie for the governor’s mansion.
The former director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a video featuring former President Barack Obama that Cordray said he was using with Obama’s permission. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren also appears in the video; both are past statements lauding Cordray’s service with the consumer agency.
"As governor, I’ll focus on the kitchen-table issues that keep people up at night," he said, listing health-care costs and consumer debt among them.
Cordray said he has spent the past 15 years on such issues — the past six running the bureau, which has gone after large financial institutions and payday lenders and returned almost $12 billion to consumers.
But as state treasurer, Cordray, 58, hired a top staffer. That staffer later turned out to be dishonest. That makes Cordray dishonest as well.
Such is the reasoning of the Ohio Republican Party, which has gone after him in the style of Donald Trump.
As Trump labeled Hillary Clinton "Crooked Hillary," the Ohio GOP has dubbed the freshly minted Democratic gubernatorial candidate "Crooked Cordray" and even set up a website with that moniker. Just as Trump said both the general election and the Democratic primary were rigged, the Ohio Republican Party is now accusing the Democrats of rigging their primary for Cordray.
One of the items on the GOP website involves Amer Ahmad, who was hired by Cordray. As deputy treasurer under Cordray’s successor, Ahmad was convicted of receiving kickbacks for funneling millions in state investment business, and is serving a federal prison term. There’s been no evidence produced to show that Cordray (or his successor, for that matter) knew about Ahmad’s schemes.
But Ohio Republican spokesman Blaine Kelly said it’s simple: "He was a crook and Cordray hired him. That absolutely makes Cordray crooked."
Another reason for considering Cordray crooked, the GOP says, stems from the fact that he tried to choose his own successor when he left the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau last week. Cordray used the the Dodd-Frank bill that created the agency; Trump used another federal law to choose his own successor. An initial federal court ruling favored Trump.
But Cordray’s move was more than a legal difference, said Kelly, a spokesman for Trump’s Ohio campaign last year. "His overreach was clearly purposeful, and therefore dishonest," Kelly said.
The state party isn’t the only one to pile onto Cordray.
Ken Blackwell, a former Republican Ohio secretary of state and treasurer, and an adviser to the Trump transition team, accused Cordray of several misdeeds from his tenure at the consumer agency.
Blackwell said Cordray, "abused his power as director to punish consumers and small businesses for his own political gain. Under his direction, the CFPB levied billions of dollars in fines which went to fund liberal interest groups and put the squeeze on consumers by cutting them off from access to basic financial services."
Asked for documentation, Blackwell spokesman Will Upton sent an editorial that Blackwell himself wrote for The Hill that cited critiques of the agency by a free-market, libertarian think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Bankers Association.
To back the claim that Codray used agency funds to support "liberal interest groups," Upton sent a link to an unsigned editorial in Investors Business Daily that said funds went to a legal-aid society that represents consumers in Washington, D.C., a People’s Community Action Corporation in St. Louis that helps low-income people with their finances and credit, and the Mississippi Center for Justice, which opposes predatory lending.
The Republican Governors’ Association attacked Cordray for not criticizing Democratic Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill’s Facebook post that said O’Neill had slept with 50 women. But Cordray hadn’t been asked about the post; he was asked by The Dispatch about O’Neill’s position on marijuana legalization, which Cordray declined to discuss.