Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray and an entourage of CFPB employees, several of whom are veterans of the Obama and Elizabeth Warren campaigns, descended on Nashville, Tennessee, for a payday loan field hearing Tuesday at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
If the purpose of the hearing was to create the impression that the agency’s efforts to destroy the payday loan industry have broad popular support, it was a miserable failure.
After an introduction by Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper, a friend and ally of Cordray, and commentary from a panel that included four CFPB bureaucrats, three opponents of the payday industry, two industry representatives, and one surprisingly fair-minded academic, the forum was open to the public.
Thirty members of the crowd, estimated at more than three hundred, spoke for two minutes each. The sentiments they expressed were resoundingly pro-payday lending and anti-CFPB regulation by a two-to-one margin.
The pro-payday lender speakers, many wearing green stickers with free market slogans on their shirts, defended the industry as the only source of short-term credit for many consumers to whom banks won’t lend.
Sonya Jones, who works at payday lender Advanced Financial and has been in the industry for eight years, told the CFPB panel she was proud of her job because she helped people who have nowhere else to go.
“Some of my customers wanted to be here today, but their jobs would not let them. I just want to share some of the things they want me to share with you guys,” she said.
“We have customers that come in there, they cry, they have no way to get help for what they need help for. I’ve had customers bring me stuffed animals, roses after I had helped them through their situation, whether it is emergency or… life obstacles,” Ms. Jones recounted.
Ms. Jones defended her industry vigorously. “We explain everything to the customer. We don’t let one customer walk out that [doesn’t] know exactly what they are getting into. We just want to help the customer when no one else will help the customer.”
As Ms. Jones sees it, her work in the payday loan industry helps her community. “I enjoy my job,” she said, “because it makes me happy when I am able to help someone else.”
One woman, a payday loan consumer for over ten years, said she liked dealing with the payday loan industry but did not like dealing with her bank.
“It’s always been extremely clear what the cost of that borrowing is,” she said. “I feel more abused by the banking industry, who, if I overdraft my account by $1, they charge me $35. I’ve heard people talk about 400 percent interest. I’m pretty good with math, and I can’t even tell you what interest that is.”
Not all public comments were supportive of the payday loan industry. Molly Fleming, an activist from a Missouri-based group called Communities Creating Opportunities, criticized the industry, citing one example in which a disabled woman was “trapped… in consumer installment loans.”
Prior to the public event at 11 a.m., Director Cordray met with a group of community activists in a roundtable discussion that was not open to the public at 9 a.m.
Breitbart News requested to attend the event but was barred entry. An adviser to Director Cordray told Breitbart News the CFPB did not allow press to attend the roundtable discussion because it enabled a more free flow of discussion.