If you think you were mistaken when you saw the Monopoly man at the Senate Banking Committee's hearing on the massive Equifax data breach Wednesday, you may need to adjust your monocle.
Amanda Werner, arbitration campaign manager for Public Citizen and Americans for Financial Reform, caused quite a stir while dressed as Rich Uncle Pennybags and sitting directly behind former Equifax CEO Richard Smith. Playing the Monopoly man who scrunched his eye to hold his monocle in place, twisted his white mustache and dabbed his forehead with money, Werner channeled the board game figure to raise awareness about a key issue resulting from the credit bureau's massive data breach that compromised the personal information of more than 145 million people: forced arbitration.
Or, as Werner describes it, a "get out of jail free card" that forces consumers to waive their rights to a class-action lawsuit and leave companies relatively unpunished.
Werner, who uses the gender pronouns they/them, told Money they came up with the idea last week. "We talked about doing this and trying to photobomb him, essentially during the hearing, but I didn't actually think it was going to come together," Werner said.
Werner did not realize the act would go viral until an intern for the organization stood in line at 7 a.m. and scored prime real estate for Werner directly behind Smith and other Equifax officials (and in a direct view of CSPAN's cameras).
"I was getting a lot of dirty looks all throughout the hearing, especially when I would drop my monocle or crinkle a dollar bill," Werner said of the reactions Equifax officials had. "Folks were really not happy with me."
But those on social media had a different impression, as Werner's Monopoly man blew up online.
On Tuesday, the Monopoly man made a less viral appearance as Werner stood outside the Senate Banking Committee's hearing and handed out "get out of jail free" cards to senators and Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan (who did not accept the gift). The cards were also delivered them to each of the 100 Senate offices.
Of course, the Monopoly man's mission this week was not all fun and games. While the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau enacted a rule in July 2017 that would not allow companies to use fine print to bar customers from filing class actions, Senate leadership is examining ways to overturn it this fall.
The Senate Banking Committee this week questioned current and former executives at Equifax and Wells Fargo, companies that have used forced arbitration, resulting in strong language from some committee members. (Equifax tried to alleviate issues caused by the breach last month by offering a credit monitoring service that required forced arbitration.) Sen. Elizabeth Warren criticized Smith on Wednesday for using the breach to make "millions of dollars." Warren and other senators were "impressively professional" throughout the hearing and did not react at all to Werner's get-up, the activist said.
"Both these companies really show the damage that forced arbitration can cause, to lease consumers without a remedy in the face of massive misconduct," Werner told Money.
"Do the Monopoly man a solid, and call your senator," Werner added.
But the cause for Monopoly man is personal, too. Werner was one of the millions impacted by the credit bureau's data breach. "This is an issue I care about and have been working on for a long time, but Equifax in particular is not my favorite company right now," Werner said.
Still, Monopoly man found humor in the protest. "I'm glad that we were able to give folks a moment of levity in what's been a really hard week," Werner said.
As for Rich Uncle Pennybags's future in Washington, D.C.? Keep an eye out. "This is a hero that people will want to see again," Werner said.