customers are best served when provided a variety of options and allowed to make informed financial decisions based on what is best for them and their families.” A check of the site’s domain owner reveals that it’s paid for by lobbyist Tim von Kennel. At the April 14 hearing, von Kennel testified against the reform bills on behalf of the Consumer Service Alliance of Texas, a trade association representing some of the largest CSOs in the state. Among them: Ace Cash Express and Cash America International. “The disclosure is thereit’s very prominent. I can read it without my glasses. Do they not realize what they’re doing? Is it because of education?” F fighting for payday-loan reform can be exasperat ing for consumer advocates of the grassroots vari ety. After the April 14 hearing, Alfredo Chaparro, a Midland resident who testified against the payday lenders, called it “an eye-opening experience. The room was filled with corporate lobbyists. I’d only seen things like that in the movies. I felt like I was going up against big tobacco.” At a second House subcommittee hearing on April 21, George Human, a retired civil engineer, testified that through his church he’s voluntarily counseled dozens of neighbors who are struggling with debts from payday loans. “We have a list of at least 30 places people can go to get emergency services and loans” without the high interest rates, Human said. He told the subcommittee about a man who came to him after borrowing $100 from a payday lender to buy medications for his mother. Human said the man had ended up paying more than $1,000 in interest and fees. He still owed $460 dollars when he turned to the church. “The people that are running these companies are really hurting people,” Human said. To illustrate the problem, he submitted a redacted copy of the man’s contract to the subcommittee. Rep. Flynn, the subcommittee chair, was not sympathetic. “The disclosure is thereit’s very prominent. I can read it without my glasses:’ he said. “Do they not realize what they are doing? Is it because of education? Because it looks like the HIGHTOWER Belly of the Beast A group of Montana legislators has come up with a truly innovative reform to deal with corporate influence over legislative committees: Rather than allowing lobbyists to crawl all over the state Capitol trying to influence committee action, why not send committee members straight to the lobbyists? It seemed like such a neat idea that the Montana Senate’s Agriculture Committee gave it a go in March. At issue was a bill affecting such biotech seed giants as Monsanto Co., which frequently bully farmers by accusing them of illegally using the companies’ genetically altered seeds. The bill required that seed corporations get permission or a court order before trampling into farmers’ fields to run tests. The bill had passed the House and was headed toward passage in the Senate until Monsanto and other biotech interests summoned the ag committee. Rather than testify at a public hearing, the corporate powers held a closed-door session with six of the nine committee members over dinner at Helena’s private Montana Club. Not that anything’s unusual or suspicious, said the committee chairman. The lobbyists wanted to inform the committee of their concerns, and that’s all it was about,” he shrugged. A spokesman for the biotech corporations was just as dismissive. “We weren’t buying anybody’s votes,” he sniffed. Then why all the sneakiness? Why not express your concerns in public, like everyone else? Why didn’t the senators pay their own tabs? And why should we trust anything that comes out of such a corrupt process? Shortly after their dinner and dance behind the club’s closed doors, the committee voted 6-3 to kill the bill. For more information on Jim Hightower’s workand to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdownvisit www.jimhightowercom. disclosure is there.” At the end of the day, Flynn left the reform bills pending. Legislative action may have to wait until 2011. Isamar Lanusse doesn’t get it. “I don’t know why they don’t regulate them,” she says. With the recession deepening, she has noticed more and more payday lender signs sprouting up in her East Austin neighborhood. “You see them on just about every corner now These days, Lanusse is taking financial classes and slowly repairing her credit so she can one day buy a house. She warns her neighbors and co-workers to avoid the trap she and so many other Texans have fallen into. “I tell my friends, don’t do it,” she says, “because you’ll be sorry. Look at what happened to me.” MAY 1, 2009 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17
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