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Thursday December 08, 2011 | 11:38 AM

The final story with more details about Sen. Snowe's "present" vote and concerns about a conflict of interest can be read here.

(Updated below with comment from Maine Democratic Party Chair Ben Grant.)

As expected, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine joined most other Senate Republicans this morning in blocking the nomination of Richard Cordray to be the director of a new consumer protection bureau.

But Sen. Olympia Snowe voted “present,” despite saying she still agrees with the GOP position that no director for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should be confirmed until structural changes are made in how the bureau is run that include giving Congress more power over its budget.

The reason: Snowe said she decided that because the bureau’s authority over financial institutions includes the private student loan industry it would not be appropriate for her to cast a yes or no vote since her husband heads a for-profit college company that gets revenue from student loans.

(Updated: .Ben Grant, Maine Democratic Party chairman, said he didn’t accept Snowe’s explanation.

“The clearest way to clean up any conflict here would be for her to vote “yes” because the only conflict would be if she votes “no” to relax the rules over any entities that her family has a financial interest in,” Grant said.)

Snowe’s husband, John McKernan, a Republican who was Maine's governor from 1987 to 1995, is board chairman of Pittsburgh-based Education Management, the nation's second-largest for-profit college company with more than 158,000 students. It has 104 schools in 32 states, none of them in Maine.

 

Snowe traditionally has abstained from voting on issues affecting Education Management, though until today she had not mentioned that as an issue with the Cordray vote. Snowe voted in favor of the 2010 financial regulatory reform overhaul that created the bureau, as did Collins.

The Obama administration says a director needs to be confirmed before the bureau, meant to protect consumers from overly risky financial products, can exercise full power over non-bank institutions like payday lenders, debt collector, private student loan companies and mortgage servicers.

Cordray is a former Ohio attorney general. Collins and Snowe have said they consider him qualified to head up the bureau.

But Collins and Snowe joined 42 other Republican senators in signing a letter earlier this year saying they would block any nominee for director of the bureau until the White House agrees to changes in the bureau’s structure.

And Snowe said after a meeting with Cordray Wednesday night that while he is “highly qualified” she was “deeply disappointed” that Obama had not responded to the letter “regarding the lack of accountability in the structure” of the bureau.

But Snowe said today in a statement after the vote that, “This new agency will affect thousands of industries, one of which my husband happens to be associated with, which involves student loans.  As such, I do not feel it is appropriate to vote on this nomination given the debate on the Senate floor raising questions about the CFPB’s role in regulating those industries.”

Only one Republican, Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, voted to end debate and proceed to a final vote on the Cordray nomination. Both Collins and Snowe were among a handful of Republicans targeted by a White House campaign this week aiming to change their minds.

 

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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