SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The state Senate on Monday approved Gov. Jerry Brown's nominee to head the department that oversees banking, financial and consumer regulations.
Jan Owen, who has strong ties to the industry, was approved as commissioner of the California Department of Corporations on a 35-2 Senate vote after serving in that role since January.
Owen formerly led a trade association that fought tighter lending restrictions before the subprime mortgage crisis exploded, and was an executive with Washington Mutual when the now-failed bank was among the most aggressive marketers of loans to high-risk borrowers.
Owen, a Democrat, also was named in a congressional inquiry into whether lawmakers and certain executives received preferential treatment for home loans. She was not accused of wrongdoing.
After the Democratic governor named Owen to the $143,000-a-year position last December, consumer groups said they were concerned but would watch Owen's decisions carefully.
Owen was not immediately available for comment Monday, her office said.
Owen, of West Sacramento, has a long resume in California, including stints in business and government. But it was her history with organizations that stood out in a state that was among the hardest hit by the housing crisis and mortgage meltdown.
She was state director of government and industry affairs at Washington Mutual from 2002 until its collapse in 2008, one of the largest bank failures in American history. It was taken over by JP Morgan Chase, where Owen stayed on as vice president of government affairs until 2009.
From 2000 to 2002, Owen was executive director of the California Mortgage Bankers Association, where she worked on behalf of lenders on regulatory issues that she now is in charge of enforcing.
She also was among those who argued against a 2001 bill that attempted to control high-interest predatory lending several years before the collapse of the housing industry.
Owen was cited in a 2009 inquiry into the collapse of Countrywide Financial Corp. as a potential "Friend of Angelo" — a reference to former Countrywide chief executive Angelo Mozilo, who helped high-profile clients get discounted mortgages — because of an email Owen sent to a senior executive about a possible mortgage refinance.
However, Owen's office has said she does not remember ever receiving a refinancing offer from Countrywide, and public records reviewed by The Associated Press do not show her or her husband having any loans from the company.
Before she worked for the trade association and the banks, Owen was chief consultant to the Senate Banking Committee in the Legislature from 1992 to 1995; a deputy commissioner at the Department of Financial Institutions under former Gov. Gray Davis from 1996 to 1999; and acting commissioner from 1999 to 2000, when she left to head the bankers association.