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Following the money leads to some fascinating doorsteps

Following the money leads to some fascinating doorsteps

Wayne Hoffman
June 24, 2014
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June 24, 2014

It's interesting but not shocking that a payday loan company is behind the mysterious radio ads bankrolled to keep Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, in office. The Idaho Statesman reports that thousands of dollars in radio ads purchased by the previously unheard of Citizens for Fairness came via Community Financial Services Association of Alexandria, Va. The association represents payday lenders, such as MoneyTree and Check Into Cash.

Thompson narrowly won the primary over Steve Yates, but after the election ended, questions over who bought the ads and why were left unanswered. Seemed strange that a group no one had ever heard of would spend thousands of dollars for a seemingly minor House race in Idaho Falls. Secretary of State Ben Ysursa filed suit to get the answer.

Lawmakers, including Thompson, voted last winter to restrict payday lending. Senate Bill 1314 passed the Legislature on a vote of 35-34 in the House. The bill limits borrowing to 25 percent of a person's monthly income. It also requires lenders to enter into extended payment plans, if requested by the borrower.

Such legislation is obviously a violation of free market principles. As one lawmaker put it, it shouldn't be the role of government to make financial decisions for people. The legislation also stands to be a bigger impediment to smaller payday lenders, which now may not be able to loan under the state's new terms or are now obligated by law to enter into conversations with borrowers they never expected to have.

So why am I not surprised that a company with interest in Idaho's regulatory environment would swoop in to help a legislator? Because the Legislature is increasingly interested in involving itself in business practices of all sorts. Because for now, the money is not with groups seeking to limit government, but the ones seeking to expand it.

Today, it is payday lenders that are the special interests rescuing Thompson from defeat. Last month, those for Medicaid expansion engineered the defeat of Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis.

As long as the Legislature increases its involvement in the marketplace, the marketplace will continue to invest in candidates and outcomes in Idaho legislative contests.

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