Among the recent large donors to Mitt Romney’s Super PAC Restore Our Future are still more corporations “not easily connected to a specific executive or even business,” Nicholas Confessore writes in a February 20 New York Times blog post. LittleSis has found that two of these new Romney backers, neither of whom the Times looked at in depth, derive their wealth from predatory, high-interest lending practices such as car title and payday loans. Both have drawn scrutiny for aggressively pursuing repayment, and both have records of making targeted political contributions to protect the laws that allow them to collect triple-digit interest from their mostly poor customers.
Roderick Aycox is an Alpharetta, GA businessman who has so far contributed a combined $200,000 to “Restore Our Future” through his Rod and Leslie Aycox Foundation and Select Management Resources, LLC. He is also the president of LoanMax, which operates hundreds of car title loan operations, under a variety of names, in over 20 states. In 2005, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Aycox frequently appeared before various state legislatures and met with banking regulators, “encouraging them to interpret their rules to allow his business to operate profitably – that is, by charging triple-digit interest rates.” His political donations between 2000 and 2005 were found to exceed $300,000, spread among 10 states.
Consumer groups and local governments fought back – in 2009 LoanMax was forced to issue refunds and shutter its operations in Washington, D.C. after being sued by the city for charging over 300% APR on loans, ten times the legal maximum. But such setbacks were rare, and as Aycox’s network of title loan shops grew, so did his political influence. Under his own name as well as those of LoanMax and his other businesses, Aycox was identified as a major donor to officials and political action committees in Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Virginia and Wisconsin. The Washington Post found that the 2010 loosening of regulations on car-title lenders in Virginia was preceded by over $750,000 in donations by LoanMax to politicians in that state alone since 2004.
Another large donation to “Restore Our Future” was received on January 30 from the Provo, UT-based RTTTA, LLC. As the Times’ Confessore notes, RTTTA’s registered agent is J. Todd Rawle, a payday executive. Rawle is the member of a prominent Provo family that has operated payday lending businesses since the 1990s. Richard Rawle and sons Tracy and Todd are listed in varying roles as the executives of CCO Financial, Leadgenix, Scrap Gold Brokers, and Softwise, but their flagship is Check City, which has expanded from 17 businesses in four states in 2002 to 80 in 2010, and currently operates in 17 states.
Like Rod Aycox, the Rawles have long known that targeted political contributions were needed to protect their predatory business model from government oversight. In 2006 the Deseret News featured Richard Rawle and his family in a story on Utah’s largest donors, documenting over $150,000 in political giving and noting that “[t]hey have annually successfully fought bills seeking more regulation of the payday loan industry.” When John Swallow, the candidate they backed for a Congressional seat in 2002 and 2004, was defeated for a second time, the Rawles retained him as a lobbyist and legal counsel until in 2009 he was named a deputy attorney general, a position which the Salt Lake Tribune noted would require him to “provide legal advice to the Utah Division of Finance, which oversees payday lending.” (Ever the opportunist, Richard Rawle became a generous supporter of Swallow’s Democratic opponent, Rep. Jim Matheson, immediately after the second defeat; in 2010 he bragged to the Tribune of his access to the Congressman, while disingenuously suggesting Matheson had no role in overseeing the payday loan industry despite his seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.)
Today Richard Rawle sits on the board of the Community Financial Services Association of America (CFSA), a national group that lobbies for the payday loan industry and has been derided for spreading misinformation about the negative impact its member organizations have on their customers. Between this position and his financial ties to three of Utah’s four members of Congress (Matheson, Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Sen. Mike Lee), Rawle looks well-placed to continue profiting from Americans in financial distress with limited governmental restrictions. He, Roderick Aycox and others like them clearly agree with Forbes’ assertion that political influence is “the most undervalued asset in America,” and now that the rise of the Super PAC has allowed their millions to speak louder than ever before, it’s crucial that their ties to government be investigated and publicized – especially when the industry that stands to benefit is as destructive as predatory lending.
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