WASHINGTON — A government watchdog group has filed an ethics complaint against U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher and 10 other members of Congress claiming they accepted campaign contributions from the payday lending industry shortly before or after they took a series of steps supporting the industry.
The Campaign for Accountability’s complaint, filed Monday with the Office of Congressional Ethics, asks for an investigation into whether the 11 members’ actions “violated House rules and criminal law.”
“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,” the organization’s executive director, Anne Weismann, said in a statement.
The allegations against Fincher, a Frog Jump, Tenn., Republican who sits on the House Financial Services Committee, involve $13,500 in contributions from the payday lending industry or its executives.
According to the complaint:
On July 19, 2012, Fincher signed on as cosponsor of a bill that would have negated actions to safeguard consumers from the risks of products offered by the payday lending industry. Ten days earlier, he received $5,000 in campaign contributions from payday lending executives Dennis and Kimberly Gardner of the Equity Management Group. Five days after cosponsoring the bill, Fincher received a $2,500 campaign contribution from payday executive William Allan Jones of Jones Management.
On June 3, 2013, less than a month after Fincher cosponsored a similar bill, he received a $1,000 campaign contribution from a payday lending industry political-action committee, the American Financial Services Association PAC.
On Aug. 22, 2013, Fincher signed a congressional letter to then-Attorney General Eric Holder and Martin J. Gruenberg, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., complaining about the Justice Department’s “Operation Choke Point,” which was designed to “prevent payday lenders and other unscrupulous internet-based companies from gaining access to the banking system through intermediaries.” About three weeks earlier, Fincher had received a $5,000 campaign contribution from the Cash America International Inc. PAC, a payday lending industry PAC.
Fincher’s office declined to comment.
But the Community Financial Services Association of America, the trade association for companies that offer short-term loans or payday advances, said the campaign contributions made by its PAC and members were unrelated to the legislation cited in the complaint.
In fact, the group and its members, who include most of those organizations and individuals cited in the complaint for donating to Fincher, didn’t work to get the bill passed because the legislation did not include their products, said Amy Cantu, the group’s spokeswoman.
“Any political contributions were not directly tied to that bill, as we had no interest in its passage,” she said.
Cantu dismissed the watchdog group’s complaint as “a desperate attempt to gain publicity for their ill-conceived agenda — and that is the elimination of credit products and this industry.”
Besides Fincher, those named in the complaint are Rep. Scott Garrett, R-NJ; Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.; Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas; Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo.; Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-NC; Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-NY; Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas; Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas; Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio; and Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan.