A report from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign released Monday shows the four main Wisconsin legislative campaign committees accepted $28,350 in campaign contributions from payday lenders and their lobbyists in the last six months of 2009.
The Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee accepted $13,900 in funds from payday loan lobbyists, while the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee accepted a $3,000 contribution Dec. 17 from a group affiliated with payday lobbyists.
The Committee to Elect a Republican Senate accepted $7,600 from payday loan lobbyists, and the State Senate Democratic Committee received $3,850 from lobbyists in the last half of 2009.
The report was released because a bill that would have capped payday loan interest rates at 36 percent is nearly dead in the Legislature.
This is despite the fact that nearly half of state representatives sponsored the bill last summer, which included 58 Democrats and Republicans, as well as the Assembly majority leader and both chairmen of the Joint Finance Committee, the report said.
Additionally, 16 other groups reported spending nearly $669,000 in 2009 to lobby legislators on the interest cap bill and on four other bills that would restrict payday lenders and auto title loans. Seven out of the 16 groups were either payday lending companies, trade groups or auto title loan companies, and these seven spent $583,658 to lobby on the bills, according to the report.
Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the Wisconsin League of Women Voters, said they do not know if the contributions affected the legislation itself, but it did damage public confidence.
“Lobbying is not a bad thing, but I don’t understand why such a large amount of money is being spent on lobbying,” Kaminski said. “People can’t help but wonder if the contributors’ activity is damaging legislation.”
She added it seems like lobbying is affecting legislators, given Democratic Assembly Speaker Michael Sheridan’s, D-Janesville, recent issues with payday lobbyists.
Sheridan, who co-sponsored a bill in 2007 with a 36 percent interest rate cap, said in a September interview the interest rate cap is too high. Sheridan’s committee accepted the bulk of the payday lender contributions during that month, according to the report.
Sheridan also admitted to dating payday lobbyist Shanna Wycoff, in a Feb. 1 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article. Republican Party of Wisconsin Executive Director Mark Jefferson said this relationship could have caused a conflict of interest for Sheridan regarding the payday lending bill.
In spite of the large amount of contributions coming from large payday lenders like Check Into Cash and Advance America, Wisconsin remains the only state without an interest rate cap on payday loans, and in Wisconsin those interest rates can equal up to 500 percent a year, marking a significant spike in the appearance payday loan stores in the past 15 years, according to the report.