How Congress Is Using the Congo to Weaken Dodd-Frank

Groups say lawmakers are using conflict minerals as an excuse to weaken the financial reform bill.

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Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif., center, gestures during a news conference about a plan to unveil a "comprehensive reform effort aimed to repair the broken budget process" on Capitol Hill in 2011. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo)
Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif., center, gestures during a news conference about a plan to unveil a "comprehensive reform effort aimed to repair the broken budget process" on Capitol Hill in 2011. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo)

Lawmakers expressed what appeared to be heartfelt concern Tuesday over an obscure provision of the Dodd-Frank Act, the major financial reform bill President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010, and how it has affected the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At a hearing on Capitol Hill, Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif., worried the Dodd-Frank provision may be hurting the Congolese economy. The provision requires American technology manufacturers, such as Apple and Philips, to check if minerals acquired from the Congo and used in cell phones, iPads and other electronics are helping finance the area's bloody conflict. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., also expressed his concern, saying the provision had "resulted in a de facto embargo on the DRC" and "led to more violence in the region."

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But human rights groups specializing in the conflict question the sincerity of the lawmakers' concerns.

"It's now become a politically driven fight, sadly, as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is trying to use every angle it can to get stop regulations on big business and get Dodd-Frank derailed, including this provision," says Sasha Lezhnev at the Enough Project, a human rights group focused on violence in Sudan and the Congo. "If you look at the Congressional committee holding the hearing, they have a track record of going after every Dodd-Frank provision."

The House Committee on Financial Services, which held the hearing, has argued repeatedly that the new rules and mandates created by Dodd-Frank are oppressive. Tuesday's hearing was the latest of many questioning the benefits of the law, and the committee even has a "Dodd-Frank Burden Tracker" to allow the public to keep track of "burdens" the bill supposedly creates.

Lezhnev argues that the Dodd-Frank provision has actually helped the Congolese people by "drawing a firm line in the sand" so that companies who buy from the Congo now have to do so in a "clean, transparent manner." An Enough Project study last year found that Dodd-Frank had already reduced armed groups' profits from conflict minerals by 65 percent.

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That sentiment was echoed Tuesday by Sophia Pickles of Global Witness, a group that focuses on environmental and human rights abuses worldwide. Pickles testified that a number of major electronics companies, such as HP and Motorola, have made progress to remove conflict minerals out of their electronics, and that the Congolese economy will substantially improve if the law is properly implemented.

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