The U.S. Congress runs on wink-wink arrangements and campaign contributions. So perhaps it's no surprise that the payday loan industry — the $46 billion-a-year business that keeps many low-income Americans locked in a desperate financial arrangement in order to pay their bills — is trying to grease the palms of legislators.
What is surprising is that 11 members of Congress are being accused of accepting cash in exchange for beneficial legislation and votes — i.e., bribes. One of South Florida's biggest congressional Democratic players has been targeted by these allegations — Congressman Alcee Hastings.
As first reported by our pals over at the Florida Bulldog, this week, the D.C.-based Campaign for Accountability mailed a letter to the Office of Congressional Ethics requesting an investigation into the lawmakers on whether they broke "House and criminal law." Hastings, whose district includes Broward and a swath of Palm Beach, is one of two Democrats to make the list.
The specifics: payday execs and PACs have hosed down certain members of Congress with money. According to a report released last week by AlliedProgress.org, 11 members of Congress received contributions from industry players and then sponsored legislation that would benefit the payday loan business. Sure, industries frequently donate funds to legislators whom they hope will support their ideals — but in this case, the CfA alleges, the timing indicates that the legislators' actions were the direct result of contributions. Tit for tat.
"The payday lending industry preys on some of the most vulnerable members of our society, deliberately plunging them into a cycle of debt in order to reap high profits," Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Anne L. Weismann wrote in the letter. "The idea that members of Congress are trading the power of their offices to help unscrupulous payday lenders avoid badly needed oversight and regulation in return for campaign contributions undermines public confidence in the institution as a whole."
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The AlliedProgress.org report states that between 2011 and 2015, Hastings — a 23-year vet of the House — received $38,500 from the payday industry. In the letter to Office of Congressional Ethics, the Campaign for Accountability's letter spotlights two specific instances where the timing of payday-linked contributions and Hastings' sponsorship of bills appears problematic.
In May 2013, Hastings co-sponsored a House bill that would have allowed payday lenders to duck regulation from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Two months earlier, Hastings had received a check for $2,500 from Ian MacKechnie, an executive at payday lender Amscot Financial. In June, MacKechnie
In the summer of 2014, Hastings received $2,500 from a payday lending PAC called Cash American International Inc. Three weeks later, on July 10, 2014, Hastings co-sponsored a House bill that would have put the kibosh on a Department of Justice probe looking at banks and their links to shady payday lending activity.
On Tuesday, New Times reached out to Hastings' D.C. office for comment. We haven't heard back, but we'll update this post if necessary.