Letter: General Assembly: Protectors of predatory lending
Is usury evil? Is it wrong to charge working class Virginians interest rates of 300 to 400 percent APR? Should predatory lenders bilking citizens of millions of dollars each year be given license to operate with impunity in Virginia?
These are not hypothetical questions. For several years now, social advocates and faith-based organizations have been trying to end usury and predatory lending in Virginia by imposing a 36 percent APR, no-fee cap on loans. Most people think 36 percent is outrageous and consider that to be usury.
The payday and car title lenders have convinced a cadre of leaders in the General Assembly that consumers are in desperate need of these loans and that the lenders cannot make a profit at 36 percent! Consequently, the leadership of the General Assembly refuses to impose a cap and has become the protector of predatory lenders in Virginia.
If the overwhelming majority of citizens are right that usury and predatory lending are clearly wrong, what is going on here? How could our legislators, elected to represent the people of Virginia, so blatantly ignore those interests to protect business operations that are unquestionably usurious?
The issue is not one of apathy or ignorance. The depth and scope of the problem have been clearly demonstrated to the legislators. It is, rather, a matter of politics and money and, consequently, a matter of ethics.
The millions of dollars that are collected from our citizens by these predatory lenders provide ample funds to influence a small number of legislative leaders to protect the interests of the usurers at the expense of our citizens. Usury is legal in Virginia. It is legal for politicians to accept money to protect the interests of the usurers, because the legislators make the laws and the most senior members control the agenda in Richmond despite the fact that a vast majority of members would like to do the right thing and impose the cap.
Is there a solution to the problem of the General Assembly acting in this manner, other than voting the rascals out? Is there some mechanism to examine the practices of members in regard to ethics either in the General Assembly itself or preferably by an outside organization or commission? Or will politicians have a free hand to do what is so clearly wrong and accept money for their unethical behavior?
In view of the current state of the economy, predatory lending is sure to be an issue in the coming session of the General Assembly and it is hoped that, this time, the noble legislators fighting on behalf of citizens victimized by the predatory lenders will prevail and implement an interest-rate cap.
Michael H. Lane