In unearthed audio, payday lenders openly discussed leveraging their campaign fundraising on behalf of President Donald Trump's reelection campaign to thwart regulation from his administration, the Washington Post reported.
At a September 24 webinar, Michael Hodges, founder of Advance Financial, one of the nation's largest payday lenders, said that industry contributions to the Trump re-election campaign's war chest could help them gain access to the White House.
"For example, I've gone to Ronna McDaniel and said, 'Ronna, I need help on something,'" Hodges said, referring to the Republican National Committee chair. "She's been able to call over to the White House and say, 'Hey, we have one of our large givers. They need an audience… They need to be heard and you need to listen to them.' So that's why it's important."
The video was uncovered by Allied Progress and Americans for Financial Reform, two advocacy groups.
A peek behind the curtain
The webinar opens a window into the payday lending industry's strategy as it attempts to fend off tougher government regulations by cozying up to the Trump administration and the president's campaign. Payday industry lenders are waiting for new rules that could loosen standards enacted by the Obama administration, and one of them includes ensuring their customers are capable of paying back the money they borrow.
The industry is made up of businesses that gives short-term loans quickly but at high interest rates for its customers. Its faced criticism for trapping their customers in cycles that force them to take out one payday loan after another to try and keep up with their payment plans.
In the audio that was posted on Youtube but later removed after the Post started asking questions, Hodges and three other industry insiders also criticized Democrats, the report said.
They called Rep. Maxine Waters of California "an industry hater" and also said that Sen. Elizabeth Warren would be a threat to their business if she were elected president. They called Trump their "ultimate backstop" to thwart regulations detrimental to their interests.
"When Trump was elected, the needle moved in our favor — finally," Max Wood of Borrow Smart Compliance said. That company sponsored the webinar.
Hodges said he donated over $1 million in support of the president during the webinar. But he downplayed his role and told the Post he never used his position to curry favor with the Trump administration.
"When I am talking about access, I am not talking about the administration. I haven't lobbied the administration," he told the Post. "I have not gone over to the White House because of Ronna McDaniel. … That just has not happened."
Hodges has emerged as a top Trump and GOP fundraiser, the report noted. During the 2018 midterms, his company and employees spent $965,450 on campaigns. And so far, Advance Financial has spent $672,956. The majority of the money went to Republicans.