Payday lenders contribute to El Paso reps
El Paso Times (TX) (Published: 9-Jan 2014 7:04 AM, Received: 7:04:42 AM)
By Marty Schladen, El Paso Times, Texas
Jan. 09--AUSTIN -- Five members of the El Paso delegation in Austin received campaign contributions from the payday-lending industry, which is in the spotlight in Texas politics.
The only El Pasoan who did not get campaign contributions from the industry was state Rep. Mary González, D-El Paso.
Texas Finance Commission Chairman William J. White, who also is an executive at a payday-lending company, is in the middle of the firestorm. His critics are calling for him to resign because of possible conflict of interest and because of comments he made about people who use payday-lending services.
According to an analysis from 2009 through 2012 by the watchdog group Texans for Public Justice, a majority of legislators from Texas received campaign contributions from the payday-lending industry.
The biggest recipient was House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, who received $311,000.
Even though members of the El Paso delegation accepted campaign contributions, they say the industry needs to be reformed.
On Tuesday, state Rep. Marisa Márquez's primary challenger, Lyda Ness-Garcia, accused Márquez of being a hypocrite for calling on the city to enforce payday-lending regulations after accepting contributions from the industry.
Márquez responded that she has an established record of pushing reforms of an industry that many cities and charitable organizations say exploits the poor.
Ness-Garcia, who will face Márquez in the March Democratic primary, said Márquez's statements are belied by her campaign-finance reports.
Ness-Garcia's blast seeks to tap into the furor as Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democrat, attacks Republican attorney General Greg Abbott for not taking a position in the payday-lending debate. Davis and Abbott are likely to face each other in the November governor's election.
"Hard working families in El Paso who find themselves trapped by predatory lenders need a state representative who will stand up to these legalized loan sharks," Ness-Garcia said in a statement. "How can we trust Marisa Márquez to put our families first, when she has taken thousands of dollars from payday lenders?"
In a news release, Ness-Garcia said Márquez has received $8,000 from the payday-lending industry, but the Texans for Public Justice report said she received $5,500.
Márquez noted the discrepancy.
"In an attempt to misrepresent my campaign contributions, my opponent failed to mention my strong legislative record to regulate predatory lenders," Márquez said in an email. "My record speaks for itself. Not only have I authored and co-authored legislation to regulate predatory lenders, but I support community efforts to protect consumers."
She was referring to several bills that failed and two that passed in the 2011 legislative session. Those bills gave the Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner oversight of payday and title lenders and subjected the businesses to certain disclosure requirements.
Márquez and other members of the El Paso delegation contacted Tuesday said they believe the payday-lending industry in Texas is in dire need of further regulation.
"I have pretty strong views about that," said Joe Pickett, the delegation's longest-serving member.
According to the Texans for Public Justice report, Pickett received $3,500 from payday lenders between 2009 and 2012. He didn't apologize for taking the money and he said it didn't buy his support for the industry's agenda.
"There are lots of people who make contributions so they can approach you," he said.
Pickett said he had no desire to drive payday lenders out of business. But he said he and the other El Paso legislators supported reforms such as those passed by the El Paso City Council.
Those are intended to stop lenders from making loans that borrowers can't repay.
Also signing on to a letter calling on the City Council to enforce its ordinance was state Sen. José Rodríguez, who received $15,000 from the payday lending industry from 2009 through 2012.
Rodríguez said that Davis has taken the lead in the Senate when it comes to trying to reform payday lending, but he has advocated it since he started there.
"I may have gotten contributions," he said. "But while I don't want to stop them from making a profit, I don't want them exploiting consumers."
Rodríguez said that when state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, proposed a payday-lending bill, he and other Democrats got Carona to adopt amendments making it more robust. The amendments didn't survive in the House, Rodríguez said.
Last week, Davis attacked Abbott for taking almost $200,000 from the payday-lending industry since he became attorney general in 2000. Rodríguez was asked what the difference was between Abbott and El Paso Democrats who had taken money from the industry.
"Abbott wants to be governor, he's taken all that money but he won't say whether he thinks there should be more regulations," Rodríguez said.
State Rep. Naomi Gonzalez, D-El Paso, agreed.
Abbott "should just say it's the consumer's choice to borrow from them if that's what he believes," she said.
Naomi Gonzalez received $2,500 from payday lenders from 2009 through 2012. She also said the money hadn't bought her vote and said she'll continue to push for further reform.
"Change in the industry is going to happen," she said. "We're already seeing it at the local level."
State Rep. Joe Moody, who also signed the letter in support of the city ordinance, received $3,000 from the payday-lending industry from 2009 through 2012.
State Rep. Mary González didn't get anything, the Texans for Public Justice report said.
Marty Schladen may be reached at 512-479-6606.
(c)2014 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)
Visit the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas) at www.elpasotimes.com
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