New Report Reveals Payday Lending Lawyer Secretly Wrote an Academic Study Defending Payday Lenders

CfA Also Calls for an Investigation of Payday Lending Lobbyists for Failing to Disclose Meetings with CFPB Officials

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 25, 2019

Contact: Bryan Dewan, bdewan@campaignforaccountability.org, 202.780.5750

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (“CfA”), a nonprofit watchdog group focused on public accountability, released a new report, Academic for Hire, revealing that a lawyer for the payday lending industry, Hilary Miller, funded, designed, and edited an academic study defending the payday lending industry.  Mr. Miller, the chairman of the Consumer Credit Research Foundation (“CCRF”) worked closely with Kennesaw State University Professor Jennifer Priestley to develop a study for the payday lending industry to use to lobby against government regulations that would have protected consumers from payday lenders.

Read the report here.

CfA Executive Director Daniel E. Stevens said, “Hilary Miller has served as the payday lending industry’s academic-in-residence, recruiting pliant professors and ghostwriting obsequious studies for them to publish. Dr. Priestley’s willingness to produce a paper for the payday lending industry was not only an abrogation of her professional responsibilities, but it also aided the industry’s efforts to defeat government regulations designed to protect consumers.”

In 2015, CfA submitted an open records request to KSU, a public university in Georgia, seeking all communications between Mr. Miller and Dr. Priestley. CCRF filed a lawsuit to prevent KSU from releasing the records, forcing CfA to intervene to obtain the documents. After more than three years of legal wrangling, the Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously sided with CfA and directed KSU to release the documents.

The emails reveal in startling detail how Mr. Miller managed the entire production of Dr. Priestley’s paper, from writing the abstract to supervising its release. Mr. Miller rewrote entire drafts of the paper, repeatedly implored Dr. Priestley to add references to other papers CCRF had funded, and solicited comments from CCRF-funded academics to improve the paper. In response to one of Mr. Miller’s suggested edits, Dr. Priestley wrote, “I am here to serve.”

CfA’s report documents the back and forth between Mr. Miller and Dr. Priestley, which allowed Mr. Miller to produce a sophisticated defense of the payday lending industry under Dr. Priestley’s name. The report also details how payday lenders use studies like Dr. Priestley’s to lobby against federal regulations that protect consumers from the industry.  CCRF paid $30,000 for Dr. Priestley to write the paper.

In conjunction with the report, CfA also requested an investigation into whether the Community Financial Services Association of America (“CFSA”), and one of its lobbyists, Joi Sheffield, violated the Lobbying Disclosure Act by failing to disclose lobbying contacts with officials at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”).

Read the complaint here.

The KSU documents reveal that on July 24, 2014, Ms. Sheffield hand delivered an interim draft of Dr. Priestley’s study to David Silberman, the CFPB’s Associate Director for Research, Markets, and Regulation, to dissuade the CFPB from regulating the payday lending industry.  Additionally, CFSA officials met with the head of the CFPB on at least three occasions. Despite the repeated contacts with CFPB officials, both CFSA and Ms. Sheffield’s firm, Sheffield Brothers, failed to disclose any lobbying contacts with the CFPB.

Mr. Stevens continued, “Payday lenders profit from a uniquely predatory business model, which is predicated on the weakness of government regulation. Since few academics are willing to defend the industry’s tactics, payday lenders have been forced to pay academics to write favorable studies.  Mr. Miller’s Potemkin defense of the industry is nothing but a tool to enrich his clients and negatively impact the millions of Americans who succumb to the entreaties of payday lenders.”

Click here to read CfA’s previous report about another payday-lender-funded academic paper.

UPDATE: February 27, 2019

Today, CfA submitted a comment to the CFPB warning the agency about seemingly unbiased academic studies that have been bought and paid for by the payday lending industry and have been used to lobby against regulations to protect consumers from payday lending companies.

Read the Comment Here.

CfA Executive Director Daniel E. Stevens said, “The CFPB is considering a new rule that would dramatically benefit payday lending companies. Before the CFPB issues a final rule, the agency needs to be aware that some of the outside academic research being used to defend the payday lending industry is little more than promotional materials paid for and edited by industry representatives.”

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.

Report

Complaint

February 27, 2019 Comment to CFPB