Payday and car title lenders spent more than $1 million on 42 lobbyists during the 2007 General Assembly session.
There were 12 bills affecting the payday lending industry, including five that would have ended the booming industry in Virginia.
Car title lending was also facing crucial legislation -- including a bill that would effectively kill the burgeoning business. A second bill would have removed the lending from legal limbo and allow the companies to charge unlimited interest on the loans. Both bills died in a committee.
The spending dwarfs the $500,000 that the industry has given to state candidates over the past two years. The payday and car title lobbying spending even topped the perennial big-spender in an unusually generous year -- Dominion Resources, which spent more than $942,000 on 17 lobbyists.
Tracking the lobbying payments, which were released by the state this week following a July filing deadline, can be difficult. Some companies have corporate names that don't match the storefronts. Others are obscure sounding groups such as Community Loans of America.
The title lenders struck a stalemate early in the session, but the payday lenders had a vicious fight. A variety of bills that would have lowered the 378 percent annual interest rates, introduced new databases and placed limits on loans or even killed the industry all failed.
Payday and car title loans are secured by either a person's future paycheck or vehicle. Because banks and credit unions often won't extend the small loans that these stores make, the industry says it's performing a service that meets a market demand and must charge higher rates.
One prominent lobbyist in 2007 for car title companies was former House of Delegates member Isaac Clinton Miller, who was a State Corporation Commission judge from 1996 until January 2006.
During the past few years, car title lenders have popped up across the state. Lawsuits were filed alleging that their business model was illegal because it violated consumer lending laws. During that time, the state commission and Virginia Attorney General's office -- both in charge of interpreting the laws -- were silent.
A year after leaving the bench at the commission, Miller went to work as a lobbyist for the car title lenders. He wasn't the only prominent former member of the House of Delegates working for them. Whitt Clement, also a former state transportation secretary, represented Checksmart.
The majority of the donations came from the Community Financial Services Association, the industry's national trade group. It paid $647,735, mostly to Williams Mullen, for the services of top lobbyist Reggie Jones.
The groups will need to dig deep again next year. A new group opposed to payday lending will try to abolish the industry and its 791 Virginia stores, and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said he will again push for tighter regulations in 2008.
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