A House subcommittee wants to legalize payday loans with interest rates of up to 391%. Lobbyists from the payday industry bought Congress' support by showering influential members, including Chairman Luiz Gutierrez, with campaign cash. The Congressman is now playing good cop, bad cop with the payday industry, which is pretending to oppose his generous gift of a bill.
"While they may not be JP Morgan Chase or Bank of America, they're very powerful. Their influence should not be underestimated," Gutierrez, the top Democrat on the Financial Services subcommittee in charge of consumer credit issues, said in an interview this week.
Indeed, the payday lending industry is strenuously resisting Gutierrez's measure, which it says would devastate its business. The measure would cap the annual interest rate for a payday loan at 391 percent, ban so-called "rollovers" - where a borrower who can't afford to pay off the loan essentially renews it and pays large fees - and prevent lenders from suing borrowers or docking their wages to collect the debt.
A newer player representing Internet payday lenders - a growing segment of the market - also ramped up its lobbying and political giving efforts. The Online Lenders Alliance, formed in 2005, nearly quintupled, to $480,000, its lobbying expenditures from 2007 and 2008. It contributed $108,400 to candidates in advance of the 2008 elections compared to about $2,000 in the 2006 contests. Gutierrez was among the top House recipients, getting $4,600, while the top Senate recipient was Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., a Banking Committee member who got $6,900.
After watching members of the military fall prey to exorbitant payday loans, Congress in 2006 capped the interest rates for military payday loans at 36%. Fifteen states have similar caps or outright bans.
Congressman Gutierrez is competing with Congressman Joe Baca to see who can author the biggest giveaway. Baca's legislation would allow rollovers, higher fees for online banks, and would pre-empt state laws banning payday loans.