A Cannon Beach widow, who lost her home to foreclosure shortly after her husband died, is the subject of a TV ad opposing President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for Treasury secretary.
Lisa Fraser’s husband, John, died last winter after a long battle with cancer. She said OneWest — the bank Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s nominee, led as chairman and CEO from 2009 to 2015 — foreclosed on the home where the couple lived for almost 25 years.
As Lisa Fraser explains in the somber 30-second spot: “We did everything the bank asked. They lied to us and took our home anyway. John spent his last days terrified I’d be homeless. And then they kicked me out right after the funeral.”
The commercial — funded and produced by progressive organizations — premiered Wednesday and targeted Republican senators in Arizona, Iowa and Nevada who may be persuaded not to support Mnuchin.
Mnuchin’s confirmation hearing begins today before the Senate Finance Committee. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said in a statement that “our staff is continuing to carefully and thoroughly vet Mr. Mnuchin to ensure that he will put the interests of working families before his own. I look forward to asking tough questions about his history of predatory lending and his plans to create prosperity for all Americans, not just the ones at the very top.”
Democrats have branded Mnuchin the “Foreclosure King” because, during his tenure at OneWest, the California bank forced thousands of people out of their homes. Prosecutors suspected the bank of ethically and legally dubious practices.
Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive, hedge-fund manager and movie financier, had sold OneWest to CIT Group by the time Fraser lost her home but served on the CIT Group board until stepping down after his nomination.
“Lisa Fraser’s story is just one of 36,000 across the country,” said Kaitlin Sweeney, press secretary at the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, one of the organizations behind the ad.
Calling Mnuchin “the poster child for how Trump is betraying America’s working families, including his own voters,” Sweeney said the nominee “made millions of dollars by foreclosing on people’s homes.”
Mnuchin has disputed this unflattering depiction, saying his business also modified loans and helped many people stay in their homes. “In the press it has been said that I ran a ‘foreclosure machine,’” according to a Politico report on his prepared statement for the Senate Finance Committee. “This is not true. On the contrary, I was committed to loan modifications intended to stop foreclosures. I ran a ‘Loan Modification Machine.’”
Unfortunately, Lisa Fraser was not one of these homeowners.
“They tortured us with endless phone calls, endless requests for documents,” she said in an interview.
As John’s condition worsened, she said she tried to mislead her husband about the seriousness of their situation so he would not worry. It didn’t work.
“He did know I was going to lose the house, and he was extremely upset about it,” she said.
The final years of John’s life, she said, should have been spent going on picnics and taking drives along the beach — activities he could still physically do.
“But I couldn’t do that, because I was so stressed out and trying to save the house, so I frequently would be short with him,” she said. “And this is the part that kills me the most: Those last couple years, it should have been all about me and John and nothing else.
“And, as it turned out, we had a third interloper in the form of Steve Mnuchin.”
Fraser reached out to Senate Democrats who had solicited stories from homeowners who had dealt with OneWest. The move brought her and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee together.
“What really struck us the most about Lisa was just how much she spoke from the heart,” Sweeney said. “I mean, what she went through, the fact that she had to fight to allow her husband to die in his own home, the fact that they foreclosed on her very soon after the funeral — it’s a very emotional story. It’s a very powerful story, and we’re really hoping lots of people see it.”
“It’s embarrassing to lose your frickin’ house,” Fraser said, “so I didn’t talk about it at all until the very end, when it was imminent.”
Nearly one year removed from her husband’s death, Fraser, 61, now rents a cabin in midtown Cannon Beach. She said she will, in the end, be OK. She still has Once Upon a Breeze, the kite shop she and John co-owned.
“I just am clinging to the shop,” she said. “I lost John — the biggest thing — and the house. I mean, it’s really rather stunning when you think back on it.”
• Watch the ad: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1R-E0Cxhj2Q