Former Iowa Law Professor Katie Porter Elected to Congress in California

Porter studied under Elizabeth Warren and went on to break ground on the subject of mortgage fraud before the 2008 financial crisis. In 2012, she was appointed by another now-senator, Kamala Harris, as an independent bank monitor in California.

Katie Porter for Congress

Katie Porter, a 44-year-old former University of Iowa law professor who studied under Elizabeth Warren at Harvard Law, on Thursday officially defeated former investment banker and two-term incumbent Republican Mimi Walters in California’s 45th Congressional District.

The district lies in Southern California’s Orange County, which has traditionally been a conservative stronghold in the liberal state. As a result of the 2018 election, however, all seven of the county’s congressional representatives are now Democrats.

Porter was an associate law professor at the U of I from 2005 to 2010 and became a full professor there in 2011 before taking her current, similar job at the University of California-Irvine.

As Mother Jones reporter Tim Murphy wrote in a May profile of Porter:

Katie Porter was a rookie law professor at the University of Iowa in 2006 when she started asking questions about mortgage fraud. Egged on by a $100 million lobbying campaign from the financial services industry, Congress had recently overhauled federal bankruptcy laws, and much of the debate in policy circles focused on how the people drowning in debt behaved. Were they gaming the system? Were they responsible? Porter, who is now a Democratic candidate for Congress in California’s 45th District, wanted to know if the banks and credit card companies were playing fair, too. Over the next year and a half, she and a colleague at Stanford University studied 1,733 foreclosure-related bankruptcy cases in 24 states, camping out at courthouses and poring over filings.

What they found, she told me recently, was a “systematic fraud on the rule of law.” Individuals who had filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy trying to save their homes were subjected to excessive or even fictitious charges that were sometimes orders of magnitude larger than the original loan itself. Banks were breaking the law in half the cases Porter studied. By the time she began publicizing her findings in 2007, the damage was done.

“I remember a lot of folks in the room were like, ‘That can’t be right, banks don’t make mistakes, Wells Fargo doesn’t make mistakes—consumers make mistakes,’” Porter says of one early presentation. “Now, if you say Wells Fargo follows the law, people just laugh, right?”

A native of Fort Dodge, Porter grew up in an Iowa farming community hit by the 1980s farm crisis. Her father was a farmer who later turned to banking.

Porter received her undergraduate degree in American studies at Yale, where she wrote a lauded thesis titled The Effects of Corporate Farming on Rural Community. She went on to study at Harvard under now-Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who played a leading role in the establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that President Trump and congressional Republicans have since attempted to gut. After getting her master’s in 2001, Porter continued to work with Warren, directing a 2004 case study of chapter 11 bankruptcy cases.

In 2012, the year after she departed Iowa Law, Porter was appointed by then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who’s now also in the Senate, as the state’s independent monitor of banks the month after Harris announced a $25 billion settlement had been reached in a major housing foreclosure lawsuit.

From Election Day until Tuesday, Walters, the incumbent Republican, led Porter as votes continued to be tallied in the 45th District. When Porter took the lead, Walters began making baseless allegations of voter fraud, but her effort to hold on for a third term proved fruitless in the end.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.