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A watchdog group accuses Rep. Patrick McHenry of taking thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the payday lending industry at the same time as he was taking official actions in support of the industry in an ethics complaint filed in Washington.
McHenry took $55,399 in campaign contributions from groups and individuals associated with the payday lending industry in 2011 while co-sponsoring a bill in Congress critics said would hobble the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in its oversight of payday lenders, according to the complaint the group Campaign for Accountability filed with the Office of Congressional Ethics.
McHenry also took $15,300 from those associated with payday lenders in 2013, around the same time he and other members of Congress wrote a letter to then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and FDIC Chairman Martin Ginsburg questioning an investigation into lending practices by Internet-based companies.
The complaint does not state that McHenry took his actions at the request of or in exchange for campaign contributions from payday lenders.
The watchdog group said the timing of the contributions and official actions appear suspicious.
“Once again, it appears that the public good has been sacrificed at the altar of high dollar donors,” wrote Anne Weismann, executive director of Campaign for Accountability in a release. “This is exactly the sort of pay-to-play scheme that leaves Americans so disheartened about the state of our government.”
McHenry did not respond directly in a request for comment on the complaint.
His spokesman, Jeff Butler, said the complaint does not have merit.
“While Congressman McHenry is thankful for the support he receives, his legislative activities are dictated by his beliefs, not the interests of any particularly group or individual.”
McHenry, the House’s chief deputy whip who represents Gaston, Cleveland and Lincoln counties, was one of 11 House members targeted in the complaint. None of the others are from North Carolina.
McHenry serves as vice chairman on the House Financial Services Committee.
Andy Millard, the congressman’s expected Democratic opponent in 2016, said he was not surprised by the ethics complaint against McHenry.
“It may just seem like part of a game, but it is real people’s lives,” Millard said Friday.
Millard, who works as a financial planner, said he had met with some of Asheville’s homeless at a city park on Friday and that he suspected some of them had been victims of unscrupulous payday lending practices.
“Payday lenders prey on the poor and powerless,” Millard said. “By taking their money and defending their business activities, McHenry is exacerbating poverty.”