After everything we’ve been through in our long campaign of retribution against payday lending spammers on our blog, which culminated in passage this year of long-sought legislation against the worst excesses of this industry after many attempts, we have to admit that today’s story in the Grand Junction Sentinel upsets us on an editorial level. Having said that, Charles Ashby reports the facts, which are quite enough by themselves:
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers has accepted thousands of dollars in campaign contributions for his re-election bid from numerous payday lending companies at the same time his office is considering new regulations of the industry.
Those new rules, which have not been finalized, are required under a law that went into effect Wednesday. The law is designed to clamp down on exorbitantly high interests rates that payday loan companies were allowed to charge, sometimes as high as 500 percent a year…
While some of the companies contributed to numerous Democratic and Republican candidates over the past eight years, only one donated to Suthers in the past, and then only $500 when he ran for attorney general four years ago. [Pols emphasis]
“This just doesn’t pass the smell test,” said Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, who introduced the new payday lending law, which narrowly won approval in the House and Senate earlier this year. “The fact that they only gave money when he was doing these final rules, that more than ever really raises flags. There’s something fishy going on.”
According to the Sentinel, the revised payday lending rules as proposed by John Suthers’ office are not as stringent as what the new law provides for. Suthers claims that the new law was ‘poorly written’ (standard cover for disparaging a bill one doesn’t like, they’re often worded a little confusingly after being amended repeatedly), but even a legislative staffer quoted who agrees complains that Suthers’ proposed rules don’t meet the standard of the new law–and apparently widen loopholes that would allow payday lenders to exceed the new limits.
If that’s right, this story could be a big headache for Suthers on several levels. For one thing, Suthers has always represented himself as a fair arbiter in the long fight over payday lending. It’s very difficult to find someone in office willing to defend 350% or higher interest rates, so the defense of payday lending usually occurs on oblique grounds–the number of jobs involved and so forth. But here you have Suthers, if the opinion of this legislative staffer is to be believed, weakening the new and hard-won law that protects people from those inexcusable rates!
But it shifts from interpretive disagreement to serious problem with the receipt of thousands in payday lender donations during the period his office was drafting these rules. Prior to that time, as Gary Harmon does an excellent job of laying out, Suthers had not taken a significant amount from the payday lending industry, and could use that to deflect questions about his commitment to regulating them. To take money from 11 different payday lenders out of the blue, during the exact time he was directly responsible for new and hotly contentious regulations over the industry–especially now that those new regulations are being questioned–is a campaign spokesman’s nightmare, and if he seizes on it, a priceless gift to Democratic opponent Stan Garnett.
It’s not about whether it’s expressly illegal, and nobody alleges that in this story. Like we said about Scott McInnis’ plagiarism, and other issues that are legally without “controlling legal authority” but ethically obvious, it’s what it looks like that matters: the ads write themselves.