Campaign for Accountability, a Washington, DC nonprofit watchdog, filed a formal request last week with the Office of Congressional Ethics calling for an investigation of 11 members of Congress of both parties, including North Carolina Congressman Patrick McHenry. The subject: their ties to the predatory payday lending industry.
Here is the news release that accompanied the request:
CfA Files Ethics Complaint Against 11 Members of Congress Alleging Collusion with Payday Loan Industry
Washington, DC – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA) asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate 11 members of Congress for possible criminal and ethics violations by accepting contributions from the payday lending industry shortly before or after taking official actions in support of the industry.
Those named in the complaint include: Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN), Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO), Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH), and Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS).
CfA Executive Director Anne Weismann stated, “It seems payday loans taken out by their constituents helped fund big paydays for members of Congress who used their positions to advocate on behalf of this unscrupulous industry.”
CfA’s request follows a report issued last week by Allied Progress that outlined actions taken by the representatives to aid payday lenders – including sponsoring legislation to limit oversight of the industry – either shortly before or after they received campaign and/or PAC contributions. CfA alleges this conduct may violate criminal laws regarding bribery, illegal gratuities and honest services fraud, as well as House rules prohibiting members from engaging in official action in return for campaign contributions.
At least seven of these members, for example, received contributions from the industry proximate in time to signing onto an August 22, 2013 letter to then-Attorney General Eric Holder and FDIC Chair Martin J. Gruenberg complaining about the Department of Justice’s “Operation Choke Point,” which payday lenders opposed.
Ms. Weismann continued, “The Office of Congressional Ethics should immediately investigate whether these members of Congress were abusing the public trust by carrying the water of the payday lending industry in exchange for contributions. Once again, it appears that the public good has been sacrificed at the alter of high dollar donors. This is exactly the sort of pay-to-play scheme that leaves Americans so disheartened about the state of our government.”
According to the report that helped spur the complaint (“Cheaper by the Dozen: How Twelve members of Congress Were Showered with Campaign Cash Just by Payday Lenders Just Before and Soon After Taking Official Actions to Benefit the Industry”), McHenry received $94,199 in campaign contributions from payday lenders from 2011-15 and took thousands in the weeks before signing an August 2013 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder questioning a Department of Justice initiative designed to crack down on unscrupulous lenders.
We’ll keep you apprised of developments in this matter as they arise. Stay tuned.