Payday lenders boost spending on lobbying, campaigns as consumer agency takes shape

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Payday lenders more than doubled their spending on federal lobbying to $9.2 million in 2009-10, an investment that defeated Congressional attempts to cap short-term loan interest rates but failed to win a carve-out from regulation by the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

A new analysis of payday lenders by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) found the industry has sharply stepped up its lobbying from $2 million in the 2005-06 Congress to $4.1 million in 2007-08, then doubling it again in the Congress that ended in December.

The Financial Service Centers of America (FiSCA), which represents many payday lenders, even even moved its national headquarters to Washington from New Jersey in January. “Regulators must fully understand the crucial role our industry plays in meeting the financial needs of millions of Americans every day. This has become FiSCA’s Number One mission,” the group said about the new consumer agency in a statement on its website.

Federal campaign donations by employees and political action committees of payday lenders rose 80 percent between the 2006 and 2010 midterm elections, according to CREW. The industry contributed $1.5 million to federal candidates in the 2010 election cycle, up from about $850,000 in the 2006 cycle, CREW said.

Some payday lenders, meanwhile, are affiliating with Indian tribes to shield themselves from lawsuits and government oversight, the Center for Public Integrity reported in a February investigation as part of its “Debt Deception” series. Several Internet-based payday lenders say they are entitled to sovereign immunity because they are tribal enterprises.

Payday lenders say they provide short-term loans to consumers who lack a savings account or other kinds of financial safety nets. In a typical transaction, a borrower might pay a $50 finance charge to borrow $300 that must be repaid in two weeks.

The Dodd-Frank financial reform law approved in 2010 gives the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau the power to regulate payday lenders , but Elizabeth Warren, the White House special adviser who is setting up the new agency has not yet indicated what regulations may be considered. The agency officially opens for business on July 21.