U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, a Republican from Upper Arlington, has been called on the carpet this week in a complaint to the Office of Congressional Ethics over his hacking for the payday lending industry.
If ever there was a business model set up to exploit low-income desperation, it’s payday lending, which doles out cash to money-strapped poor people with interest rates that would make the Gambino crime family blush.
The Campaign for Accountability (CfA) asked the OCE Monday 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,” according to a press release.
Stivers, a former banking lobbyist who currently represent’s Ohio’s 15th Congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives, is the only elected official from the Buckeye State to be included in the complaint.
The CfA describes itself as a new nonprofit watchdog organization that “uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.”
In the complaint, Stivers boasts one of the longer lists of offenses, receiving one $5,000 contribution before he co-sponsored payday lending legislation and another $5,000 after; doing so again with another bill and $2,500 on both ends of his co-sponsorship; and also receiving a variety of contributions around the time he signed a letter of support for payday lenders.
All told, Stivers got over $37,000 in campaign funds from payday PACs and executives during these time periods, the complaint shows.
In the release, 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, the release said.
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, the release continued.
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.
“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,” Weismann said. “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.”
In addition to Stivers, others 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), and Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS).
View the complaint here: http://bit.ly/1hjQ0hz
D.C. DeWitt is a writer and man of sport and leisure. He has also written for Government Executive online, the National Journal’s Hotline, and The New York Observer’s Politicker.com. He is the Associate Editor of The Athens NEWS in Athens, Ohio. DeWitt can be found on Facebook and Twitter @DC_DeWitt.