When you hear the words 'government transparency,' you probably think of open meeting requirements, internet databases of public records, lobbying disclosures, and so on. You probably wouldn't think of government offices being literally transparent—unless you're Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.).
In yesterday's House Financial Services Committee, Ellison lambasted Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Mick Mulvaney for frosting the glass of his office space in the bureau's D.C. headquarters.
"You are the champion of transparency, right?" Ellison grilled the director. "And yet you have obscured yourself physically! And I find that to be ironic, sir."
Mulvaney said that the conversion of 13 CFPB offices from transparent glass to translucent glass was initiated by his predecessor and cost a mere $3,500—a positive bargain given the cost of other Trump Administration office renovations. When Mulvaney noted that Ellison's own office was physically opaque, the congressman countered with the classic 'I'm asking the questions' defense, saying, "I'm not a witness today. You are."
Following the committee meeting, Ellison posted a picture of Mulvaney's office to Twitter, again pointing to the supposed hypocrisy of supporting institutional transparency while not having an office that is physically transparent.
Mick Mulvaney touts himself as Mr. Transparency. But today when I showed him this picture, he admitted it was his office at CFPB and that he'd had the glass walls in the building frosted like this. How is that transparent? pic.twitter.com/XJjJYvVQSG— Rep. Keith Ellison (@keithellison) April 11, 2018
Ellison—apparently under the impression that he had stumbled across a winning issue—also issued a press release on the topic and wrote a letter to Mulvaney, saying that "obscuring your activities behind frosted glass was antithetical to your professed goals of increased transparency."
I can't imagine what important information would be gleaned from requiring the head of a government agency monitored at all times by his subordinates. This is the kind of blatantly partisan and pointless griping that Democrats bemoaned under Pres. Obama. Given the significance and autonomy of the CFPB, Elisson's crusade is borderline maddening.
As Reason's Eric Boehm noted in June, "the CFPB does not have to answer to Congress or the president for its actions. It gets its funding directly from the Federal Reserve, and is run by a single director (an unusual arrangement since most regulatory agencies are run by a bipartisan group of three or five individuals) who serves a 10–year term and cannot be removed from office before that time."
In October 2017 the D.C. Circuit Court ruled unanimously that the agency's structure was unconstitutional, writing, "[O]ther than the President, the Director of the CFPB is the single most powerful official in the entire United States Government." (This decision was later overturned by an appeals court in January.)
Rather than take issue with this unaccountable structure, Ellison has praised it unconditionally, saying in a 2015 press release that "millions of Americans have had an ally protecting their mortgages, their paychecks, and their future."
This was back when the unaccountable powers of the agency were wielded by an Democratic appointee. With this power now in the hands of his partisan foes, one might expect Ellison to interrogate the structure and powers of the office. Instead, he's kvetching about its window tint.
Photo Credit: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Newscom