Politics is often a game of strategy, and an area anti-tax group is well-known for taking the offensive on most issues it advocates. A recent dispute over a referendum on a payday loan law, however, has the group facing stinging criticism for getting its facts wrong and overstating its own influence.
The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) has campaigned strongly against Issue 5 which, if approved, would uphold a state law that restricts the interest rates that payday lending and cash advance firms may charge borrowers, as well as limiting borrowers to taking four loans a year.
The law, passed by Ohio legislators earlier this year but not in effect pending the outcome of Tuesday’s vote, would lower the interest rate on payday loans to 28 percent annually, down from the 391 percent currently allowed.
Issue 5 supporters said the high interest rates exploit the poor and working class residents, and trap them in a spiral of debt and late payment charges. Opponents, however, countered that adults should be able to make their own financial decisions. Additionally, they dislike the proposed creation of a state database to track who takes out the loans.
COAST issued a statement Tuesday targeting the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO), which supports Issue 5. COAST claimed the homeless group “receives virtually 100 percent of its funding from state and federal grants.” Also, COAST condemned the group for using “our tax dollars'” to help fund the “Yes on Issue 5” campaign.
But COAST’s allegations aren’t true, replied the homeless group’s leader.
“COAST’s comments are insulting and incorrect,” said Bill Faith, the homeless group’s executive director, who also serves as the treasurer for the “Yes on Issue 5” campaign.
“In 2007, the majority of (the group’s) revenue came from non-governmental sources. COHHIO brought in $1.7 million last year, and just $682,000 was state or federal money,” Faith added.
The group’s contributions to the ‘Yes on Issue 5’ campaign came exclusively from emergency reserves that have accumulated over many years, he said.
“The reserves include money from private foundations, private corporations, private citizens and – recently – an anonymous $45,000 stock donation,” Faith said. “No public money ever goes into the reserves. COHHIO must document how each public dollar is spent and must return any unspent funds.”
Further, a pro-Issue 5 spokeswoman said the state database will exist whether the measure is approved or defeated at the polls.
“As you know, the requirement exists regardless of the outcome of Issue 5 because the lenders chose not to include the database in the referendum,” said Sandy Theis, campaign spokeswoman. “The purpose of the database is to ensure compliance with a provision of the new law that limits to four the number of loans borrowers can take out each year. The contents are not a public record.
“Given the (payday loan) industry’s sorry track record on protecting its customers’ privacy, this sudden concern about the privacy rights of payday customers is downright laughable,” Theis added.
So, why is a group dedicated to reducing taxes and ending wasteful government spending interested in the payday lending law? Theis thinks she knows the reason.
“I’m assuming the industry’s track record is the reason it chose to have COAST make today’s charges,” she said earlier this week. “But here’s what they won't tell you: The Cincinnati-based COAST has only six members, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. As the article notes, David Langdon is one of the four. As last week’s campaign finance report shows, Langdon is one of the payday lending lawyers.”
Oh, what a twisted web we weave.
Maybe after the election is over, the COASTers can relax by participating in the Fountain Square Broomball League. They will just need to find six other people so their team can qualify.