How a payday lending industry insider tilted academic research in its favor
Shortly after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau began preparing what would become the first significant federal regulations for the multibillion-dollar payday-lending industry, Hilary Miller went to work.
Miller, an attorney who has worked closely with the industry for more than a decade, contacted a Georgia professor with a proposal: Would she like to test one of the chief criticisms of the industry, that its customers are harmed by repeatedly taking out loans?
Over the next year, Miller worked closely with Jennifer Lewis Priestley, a professor of statistics and data science at Kennesaw State University, suggesting research to cite, the type of data to use and even lecturing her on proofreading. “Punctuation and capitalization are somewhat random,” he said in a February 2014 email responding to a draft of the report. “You might want to have your maiden aunt who went to high school before 1960 read this.”
“Not only is the payday-lending industry choosing professors to write studies on their behalf; in this case they are writing the studies themselves,” said Daniel Stevens, executive director of the Campaign for Accountability. “I have never seen anything like this.”
The D.C.-based nonprofit group obtained the emails through a public records request after a three-year legal fight that reached the Georgia Supreme Court in 2018.
Miller declined to comment for this report.