Patrick McHenry

Congressman Patrick McHenry

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.


President Obama 3Looking for something to restore your faith in our government? Then check out the new rules adopted yesterday by the Obama administration to clamp down on predatory lenders who take advantage of American servicemen and women.

The new Department of Defense rules, which were announced Tuesday by the President in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, update the Military Lending Act—a 2006 law that capped interest rates and add-on fees to members of the military and their families at 36 percent.

Unfortunately, the original 2007 regulations implementing the law capped rates for just a small number of loan types, such as payday loans of 91 days or less and so-called “car title loans” of 181 day or less. Since that time, sharks have evaded the rules by simply extending the terms or restructuring the loans — thus allowing them to continue to target service members (something that often impacts their security clearances and even jeopardizes their careers).

Happily, the new rules take big step toward putting an end to these evasions in that they:

  • Apply market-wide to all high-cost credit products that target service members, including payday, auto title and installment loans designed to evade the 2007 protections;
  • Cap interest and add-on fees at 36 percent for loans issued to service members and their dependents;
  • Prevent lenders from using junk fees such as credit insurance, debt cancellation or debt suspension to circumvent the 36 percent interest and fee cap.
  • Preserve service members’ access to the courts by prohibiting forced arbitration agreements;

Research by the Department of Defense released last year found that as many as one out of every ten enlisted serviceman and woman continued to be targeted by high-cost credit designed to evade the Military Lending Act. DoD estimates that the final rule will reduce involuntary separation caused by financial hardship, resulting in a savings of $14 million a year or more.

The rules come as a particular boon to North Carolina, home to tens of thousands of active military personnel and one of the nation’s largest military populations.

Of course, the obvious next step for federal regulators in the years ahead is to extend the protections now afforded to active military personnel to all individuals affiliated with the military and, eventually, all American consumers period. Let’s get to work.


Payday loans.jpgThe federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is unveiling some long-awaited proposed rules targeting the predatory payday lending industry at a big hearing in Richmond, Virginia today and you can follow along on Twitter at the hashtag #StoptheDebtTrap. Generally, the proposed rules amount to a promising start. There are, however a few worrisome potential loopholes. The good people at the Center for Responsible Lending explain:

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to Limit Payday Loan Debt Trap; Curb 400% Interest Rate Loans

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will offer a first look at where the agency’s efforts to rein in the abusive practices of payday and car title lenders are headed at a Thursday hearing in Richmond, VA. The consumer agency will release information outlining their deliberations and take testimony from a panel of consumer and civil rights advocates as well as industry representatives.

Mike Calhoun, President of the Center for Responsible Lending, will present testimony at the hearing.

Calhoun comments on the proposal:

“The proposal endorses the principle that payday lenders be expected to do what responsible mortgage and other lenders already do: check a borrower’s ability to repay the loan on the terms it is given. This is a significant step that is long overdue and a profound change from current practice. If made mandatory, the ability to repay standard will help millions of borrowers avoid dangerously high-cost payday and other abusive loans. The requirement would prevent debt traps, an all-too common practice where a lender flips loans over and over and the consumer ends up paying double the amount borrowed in interest and fees. And the Bureau appropriately applies the standard to both shorter and longer term loans, including vehicle title loans.

At the same time, we are deeply concerned about provisions in the proposal, the so-called “debt trap protection options,” which would in fact permit payday lenders to continue making both short- and longer-term loans without determining the borrower’s ability to repay. The industry has proven itself adept at exploiting loopholes in earlier attempts to rein in the debt trap. The consumer agency can look to necessary revisions to the Military Lending Act after widespread abuses were found, dragging active service members into debt so damaging that a Defense Department report found it undermined military readiness.

These “options” are an invitation to evasion. If adopted in the final rule, they will undermine the ability to repay standard and strong state laws, which give consumers the best hope for the development of a market that offers access to fair and affordable credit.

We urge the consumer bureau to adopt its strong ability to repay standard without making it optional.”

Let’s hope the regulators are listening.

Photo: MoneyMutual

Photo: MoneyMutual

There is another small ray of good news today in the long-term battle to rid the nation of the predatory scalawags in the payday loan racket. After years as serving as the well-compensated barker for the sharks at MoneyMutual, TV pitchman Montel Williams has announced that he will stop endorsing the company. The announcement came just a day after the New York Department of Financial Services announced a settlement with owners of MoneyMutual that prohibits the company from doing business in New York and requires it to pay a $2.1 million penalty. Give you any ideas, Attorney General Cooper?

This is from the settlement announcement:

Superintendent [of Financial Services Benjamin] Lawsky said: “Using Mr. Williams’s reputation as a trusted celebrity endorser, MoneyMutual marketed loans to struggling consumers with sky-high interest rates – sometimes in excess of 1,300 percent – that trapped New Yorkers in destructive cycles of debt. The company made special efforts to target the more than 55 percent of their customers who were ‘repeat clients’ – including so-called ‘Gold’ customers who took out a new loan to pay off a previous loan. We are pleased that they have agreed to resolve this matter and stop marketing these illegal, usurious loans to New York consumers. Our investigation into the lead generation industry continues.”

Today’s MoneyMutual agreement is the first successful enforcement action against a payday loan “lead generation” company penalizing it for its unlawful conduct. Lead generation firms do not typically make payday loans directly, but instead set up websites marketing those illegal loans. Through promises of easy access to quick cash, the lead generation companies entice consumers to provide them with sensitive personal information such as social security and bank account numbers, and then sell that information to payday lenders operating unlawfully in New York and other states. In December 2013, DFS issued subpoenas to 16 online “lead generation” firms, including Selling Source/MoneyMutual, which were suspected of deceptive or misleading marketing of illegal, online payday loans in New York.

Let’s hope state officials keep Selling Source (aka “MoneyMutual”) on the run and that, at some point, Mr. Williams offers a public apology to the thousands upon thousands of vulnerable Americans he’s helped connect to these sharks. We won’t get our hopes up, though, that he returns the gazillions of dollars he’s no doubt been paid or, better yet, donates it to a worthy cause.


Predatory loansIn case you missed it over the weekend, the New York Times ran a thoroughly logical editorial that rightfully called for federal regulation to crack down on the scam artists who sell payday loans and other similar debt traps in numerous states across the country.

As the editorial rightfully notes, it’s all well and good to propose and enact laws like the “Military Lending Act,” which seeks to prevent our military personnel from getting caught up in these rip-offs, but the same logic obviously applies to other vulnerable consumers as well:

“Poor and working-class people across the country are being driven into poverty and default by deceptively packaged, usuriously priced loans. The obvious solution is a national standard for consumer lending. Both the House and Senate have bills pending that would adopt the 36 percent standard for all consumer transactions, including those involving payday loans, mortgages, car loans, credit cards, overdraft loans and so on.”

And while North Carolina has done a better job than many states in protecting its citizenry from the scammers, there’s plenty that comprehensive federal regulation which sets a ceiling on rates would do to benefit us — not the least of which is the way it could cut back on the flood of money spent by the loan industry on buying political influence and corrupting our politics.

The bottom line: What’s good for protecting our service members is good for protecting all consumers. If Congress had even a smidgen of courage, it would enact such legislation ASAP.