Georgia Supreme Court to Hear Open Records Case against Payday Lending Group that Bankrolled Favorable Academic Study at Georgia University
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 1, 2018
Contact: Daniel Stevens, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA) announced that the Supreme Court of Georgia is scheduled to hear oral arguments on Monday in CfA’s case against the Consumer Credit Research Foundation (CCRF), a payday lending nonprofit that funded a favorable academic study by a professor at Kennesaw State University.
CfA Executive Director Daniel E. Stevens said, “The payday lending industry got caught red handed trying to buy favorable academic studies to bolster its bottom line. Unable to defend their exploitive practices, payday lenders have been reduced to buying supporters. This lawsuit shows the lengths to which the industry will go to prevent Americans from learning how they operate.”
On June 10, 2015, CfA sent a Georgia Open Records Act request to Kennesaw State University, seeking communications between CCRF and Jennifer Lewis Priestley, a professor of Statistics and Data Science at Kennesaw State University, about her 2014 study on payday loan rollovers. Kennesaw State University received a grant from CCRF for Priestley to conduct the study, which argued that customers who regularly extend their high-interest loans have better financial outcomes than those who pay off their loans quickly. CfA sought communications between Priestley and CCRF to learn whether CCRF influenced the study’s findings.
After CfA sent its request, CCRF filed a lawsuit, attempting to prevent the release of the records. CfA won in the lower court, but CCRF appealed, and the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed, citing dicta from a 1995 case addressing a separate issue under Georgia’s Open Records Act. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari and will hear oral arguments on February 5, 2018 at 10:00 am.
Several other organizations have filed briefs in support of CfA’s position. The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, which governs Kennesaw State University, filed a brief in favor of the records’ release, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Georgia Press Association, the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution jointly submitted a brief arguing against CCRF’s position.
The records CfA initially sought are relevant as regulators consider whether and how to reign in the abuses of the payday lending industry. On January 16, 2018, for instance, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced that it was going to revisit a federal rule requiring payday lenders to determine whether borrowers can afford to repay their loans.
Opponents of the current regulations have relied on Priestley’s study to support the CFPB’s move. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, for instance, cited Priestley’s CCRF-funded study in a January 17, 2018 post entitled “7 Reasons to Oppose the Federal Payday Loan Rule.”
Priestley’s study, however, may not be objective. In November 2015, CfA released a report revealing that the head of CCRF, Hilary Miller, drafted parts of an Arkansas professor’s study that was favorable to payday lenders. The radio show Freakonomics, relying on documents obtained by CfA, found a nearly identical sentence in Priestley’s study to one that was written by Miller and included in the Arkansas paper.
Stevens continued, “These documents should be released so regulators can understand the extent to which Priestley was in cahoots with payday lenders. CfA has been fighting for more than two and a half years to obtain these records. What, exactly, is CCRF so eager to hide?”
UPDATE: June 18, 2018
Today, the Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously ruled in CfA’s favor and ordered the release of the requested records.
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.