Georgia Supreme Court Unanimously Sides With CfA in Open Records Lawsuit Against Payday Lending Group that Funded Favorable Academic Study
Today, the Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously sided with CfA in our open records lawsuit 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 Georgia Supreme Court’s ruling is a total and decisive victory not just for CfA, but for government transparency. The court’s decision should serve as a warning to predatory payday lenders that they can’t pay off academics and expect to keep it quiet.”
Jennifer Lewis Priestley, a professor of Statistics and Data Science at Kennesaw State University (KSU), received a $30,000 grant from CCRF to conduct a study of payday loan rollovers. CCRF is funded by financial institutions, which include payday lenders. The KSU study appears to be part of a larger pattern of industry-funded research, which CfA documented in a report, Academic Deception.
In 2015, CfA filed an open records request for information about Professor Priestley’s CCRF-funded study. In the open records request, CfA wrote, “[CCRF’s] funding of Priestley’s project raises serious questions about the objectivity of Professor Priestley’s study and the extent to which it was tainted by industry-financed bias.”
After KSU agreed to released the records to CfA, CCRF filed a lawsuit to prevent the university from releasing the requested records.
After more than three years of legal wrangling, the Supreme Court of Georgia ordered the release of the requested documents.
Writing for the court, Justice Nahmias observed:
“[It] appears that the interpretation of the Open Records Act that CCRF claims we must continue to follow to keep the heavens from falling has never actually been followed.”
Furthermore, Justice Nahmias concluded, “We believe that the interpretation of the Open Records Act that we announce today has long been the general understanding and practical application of Georgia’s open records law.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, “The ruling, hailed by open government advocates, means that Campaign for Accountability, a Washington-based watchdog group, can obtain communications between Kennesaw State statistics and data science professor Jennifer Lewis Priestley and the Consumer Credit Research Foundation, which touts studies favorable to payday lending.”
Stevens continued, “Now that the Supreme Court has ruled, we expect the university to deliver the records promptly. Finally, the public will learn what CCRF has spent so much time and effort trying to hide.”
Campaign for Accountability is a 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.