GUY RAZ, HOST:
Well, every single state in the country will get a piece of that $26 billion to help troubled homeowners keep their homes, every single state except Oklahoma. The attorney general in Oklahoma decided to opt out of the multistate settlement to hold banks accountable for questionable lending and foreclosure practices.
Scott Pruitt is Oklahoma's attorney general, and he joins me now on the line. Attorney General, welcome.
SCOTT PRUITT: Well, thank you, Guy.
RAZ: So what gives? Why did you voluntarily opt out of a chance to get tens of millions of dollars for Oklahomans?
PRUITT: Well, I would offer one thing with respect to your opening statement. We are participating in a portion of the 26 billion. And that's the portion that was allocated to the states that dealt specifically for unlawful practices. The 18.6 we got came directly out of the investigation. It was directly tied to what we saw as the extent of wrongful practices in the state of Oklahoma, wrongful foreclosures. And those were the damages that were assessed based upon the national formula.
RAZ: Right. So the majority of the money will be given to help homeowners who are struggling to keep their homes, keep them, lowering their rates and so on. And so I wonder, though, are the 49 other attorneys general - even ones who share your principles - are they less principled, do you think, than you are?
PRUITT: I respect the decision of each of my other colleagues. They had to make a decision on what was best for their states. I can tell you that the 18.6 million that we settled for will, more than sufficiently, address the harmful and wrongful foreclosure practices in Oklahoma. We receive 86 complaints from October of 2010 until the day of the settlement.
RAZ: Eighty-six complaints of wrongful foreclosure?
PRUITT: That's exactly right.
RAZ: But there are, presumably, thousands more in Oklahoma who are struggling to pay their bills.
PRUITT: Well, compared to Florida and California, New York and others, probably not as many. We've had - our unemployment rate in Oklahoma is 6.1 percent. You know, our economy has been pretty strong through the recession. But are there individuals across the state that are struggling to pay their mortgages? Absolutely. Where is it in my authority to come in and say, you know what, there's not been a fraudulent or wrongful foreclosure that occurred here, but yet I'm going to use the authority of my office to come in and engage in tinkering with the market to make it better.
RAZ: Essentially, your argument is that we're not dealing with the issue of personal responsibility here, that the government is taking responsibility for this.
PRUITT: I think that the relationship between a homeowner and their bank, if there is practices in that relationship that are fraudulent, unlawful, there is a significant role for an attorney general to play, as well as the Department of Justice to play, to right that wrong.
And again, there ought to be outrage by many. I think that there was significant harm perpetrated upon folks across the country. And again, under this settlement, only 1.5 billion of the 25 or 26 billion goes to those folks, and it's an arbitrary $2,000 check. And it turned into that those individuals that did suffer wrongful conduct got the short end of the stick and those that didn't experience wrongful conduct, the feds are using, I think, their authority in a wrongful way to come in and say, we're going to fix the housing market.
RAZ: That's Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Attorney General, thanks so much.
PRUITT: Guy, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.