The consumer finance industry, which recently succeeded in persuading the Republican-led state legislature to pass a bill that it wanted, has been a major contributor to GOP lawmakers in recent years.
An analysis of state Board of Elections data by Democracy North Carolina, a voter rights and campaign finance watchdog group, found that people associated with the consumer loan industry and two industry political action committees gave at least $530,000 to legislators and party committees over the past four years. Of that amount, 92 percent went to Republicans.
“I would say they got a real advantage by putting in this kind of money,” said Bob Hall, director of Democracy NC.
R.E. Everette, chair of the legislative committee of the Resident Lenders of North Carolina, which represents independently owned consumer loan companies in the state, said “there is no connection” between the industry’s contributions and its recent legislative win.
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“We just support people who believe in free enterprise,” Everette said. “I give to Democrats and Republicans, although I have to admit most of it has been to Republicans.”
Everette said that he doesn’t expect that the candidates he donates to will always vote his way.
“I only agree with myself 60 percent of the time,” he said.
Democracy NC’s analysis found that the bulk of the campaign contributions came from two dozen owners of consumer loan companies. Everette, who owns Time Financing Service, a consumer loan company with 24 offices statewide, led the industry donors by giving $188,000 over the past four years. His mother, Gail N. Blanton, was No. 2; she gave $49,200.
A bill pushed by the industry, HB 140, recently was passed by the legislature and is now sitting on Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk. A spokesman for the governor said this week that he’s reviewing the bill.
The bill was passed over the objections of consumer advocacy groups that found themselves playing a legislative variation of whack-a-mole. The groups succeeded in getting the measure stripped from one bill, but it was subsequently added to two other bills.
Consumer finance companies make loans of up to $15,000 at interest rates ranging from 18 percent to 30 percent for car repairs, vacations, funerals, weddings, debt consolidation and other needs and wants.
If the bill becomes law, consumer groups say, it will enable consumer finance companies to expand the type of products that consumer finance companies can sell credit property insurance on in conjunction with a loan. Credit property insurance, which the consumer groups consider junk insurance, insures against damage or loss to property used to secure a loan.
The industry, on the other hand, contends that the bill merely clarifies existing state law and defends credit property insurance as worthwhile.
Hall said the industry has been very strategic with its campaign donations.
“They’re not just giving to their local legislators,” he said. “They spread the money out” to a number of legislators, including the leadership.
Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham County, was the No. 1 recipient at $48,250. House Speaker Tim Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, received $19,050.
Cooper, a Democrat, received $1,000 for his election campaign last year. His Republican opponent, then-incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory, received $29,500.