I have previously voiced concerns about the CFPB’s Academic Research Council, particularly the lack of transparency surrounding the Council’s creation and the CFPB’s decision not to seek public input on appointments to the Council. My concerns about the Council were heightened by a report appearing earlier this week in the New York Times that the Obama campaign received research-based ideas about how to “get out the vote” from a group of behavioral scientists. According to the report, one of those scientists was Richard H. Thaler, a professor of behavioral science and economics at the University of Chicago’s business school. (The report indicated that the Obama campaign would neither confirm or deny a relationship with the scientists.)
Professor Thaler is also one of the six professors appointed to the Academic Research Council and, as we have noted, behavioral economics are playing a central role in the CFPB’s regulatory and enforcement agenda. We have also observed that the Council is likely to be very influential in connection with empirical studies being conducted by the CFPB regarding a wide array of products (e.g., payday lending) and practices (e.g. arbitration). Professor Thaler’s reported involvement in the Obama campaign raises new questions about the CFPB’s ability to maintain its independence from the Obama administration.