Former Equifax CEO Richard Smith testified in front of Congress about the credit agency’s data breach for the second straight day Wednesday, a hearing that included Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) berating the executive for making “millions of dollars off its own screwup.” As uncomfortable as that may have been for Smith, who stepped down last week to a $90 million retirement package, another well-heeled magnate had his back: The monocle-wearing, mustachioed “Monopoly Man,” also known as Rich Uncle Pennybags was there, photobombing the event.
Positioned right over the shoulder of Smith throughout the hearing, a costumed hearing attendee twiddled his facial hair and adjusted his eyepiece throughout the hearing. It was an epic troll, but why? Nonprofit advocacy group Public Citizen has since claimed responsibility for the gag.
Part of a campaign between Public Citizen and Americans for Financial Reform against forced arbitration clauses that are used by Equifax and Wells Fargo, among other financial companies, the prank raised eyebrows as well as awareness.
Forced arbitration clauses appear in the fine print of financial agreements and require consumers to bring claims individually against companies, not as class-action or group lawsuits. The thinking behind the practice is that people are much less likely to sue a company for wrongdoings if they have to do all the legal wrangling themselves.
“Forced arbitration is a get-out-of-jail-free card that lets banks, payday lenders, and debt relief scammers avoid accountability when they violate the law,” said Lauren Saunders, associate director of the National Consumer Law Center, in a statement in May 2016.
In July 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) finalized a rule that barred the use of forced arbitration and restored the ability of people to file group lawsuits. But new Senate leadership is considering overturning the rule in the coming weeks.
On Tuesday, the first day of the Senate Banking Committee hearings, Wells Fargo CEO Timothy J. Sloan defended his company’s use of forced arbitration. “When I hear the word ‘arbitration,’ what I hear is the word ‘failing,’” Sloan said. The topic will likely come up again on Thursday, when the three-day hearings continue.
Meanwhile, the person masquerading as Pennybags, Public Citizen’s arbitration campaign manager Amanda Werner, has brought get-out-of-jail-free cards to Tuesday’s Wells Fargo hearing as well as to all 100 Senate offices.