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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Darlene Hooley: The Cruella DeVille of Predatory Lending?

First she was one of the co-sponsors of the anti-consumer bankruptcy bill. Now she is one of the co-sponsors of HR 1295, a bill that would remove many state consumer protections against predatory lending practices. What the heck is up with Rep. Darlene Hooley (D-OR)?

The bill has civil rights leaders like NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, Jesse Jackson and Wade Henderson, the executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights up in arms, and well it should. Predatory lending practices primarily target old people, minorities and immigrants.

Take the case of one African American North Carolina warehouse worker who borrowed $200 from Advance America, one of those companies who offer cash advances in strip malls. All he had to provide was a bank account, an income, and a driver's license. He wrote out a check and walked out the door 15 minutes later with cash in his pocket.

When payday rolled around two weeks later, however, he found (as most such borrowers do) that he needed his paycheck for weekly expenses. However, Advance America does not allow paying off the loan in weekly installments. They will instead "renew" the loan for a $35 fee, which does not go against the principal. In the industry people like this are known as "26ers," people who come in every payday and give up another fee to avoid defaulting on a small loan -- so called because they will renew the loan and pay another fee 26 times per year.

At one point the amount increased to $50, and he found that he was paying $50 each week to float the $295 principal. Five years later he had paid roughly $5,000 for one small loan, repeatedly renewed. His mortgage payments fell behind, and he wound up filing for bankruptcy.

In response to his and other stories, North Carolina actually enacted tough laws against predatory lending -- which Rep. Hooley's bill would wipe off the books. A competing bill, HR 1182, offered up by North Carolina Democrats Brad Miller and Mel Watt, along with Barney Frank of Massachusetts, is modeled on the tougher North Carolina bill passed in 1999, and it does not preempt state laws.

Industry groups are, of course, backing the Ney-Kanjorski bill, and say it is necessary to eliminate a "patchwork of state and local laws." Right. And how does Darlene Hooley, who otherwise has an excellent voting record on social and consumer issues fit into it? Well, she received campaign contributions of $10,000 from the National Association of Realtors, $10,000 from the Laborers Union, which strongly support the bill. You decide.

Other Democratic co-sponsors of the Ney-Kanjorski bill include Harold Ford of Tennessee (who's just looking worse and worse as a national candidate), William Lacy Clay (MO), Gregory Meeks (NY), Bennie Thompson (MS), Joe Crowley (NY), David Scott (GA), and Brad Sherman (CA).

You can find contact information for any of these reps here. Darlene Hooley can be reached at (503) 588-9100 (phone), (503) 588-5517 (fax), or you can email her here.