Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Focus on money, not rhetoric behind policy

Today the New York Times ran a front-page story titled "A Consumer Bill Gives Exemption On Payday Loans." I was pleased to find that reporter Sewell Chan's sole emphasis was on the important role of money in shaping this legislation, not the superficial candy of political deal-making.

Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee takes center stage in the scrutiny. A ranking member on the Senate Banking Committee, he has effectively lobbied Democratic Senator Chris Dodd, the committee chair, to loosen proposed regulations on payday loan businesses.

The bill creates a consumer protection agency that would set rules on consumer lending and enforce penalties on offenders. Corker's change would require the agency petition a regulatory board before rules could be enforced upon payday lenders.

The change was agreed upon by Dodd in bipartisan spirit in order to recieve Corker's support, and get the bill out of committee and onto the senate floor for a vote.

But rather than focusing on a bipartisan victory - a seemingly rare feet in present-day Washington, the reporter uncovered the appearance of unethical legislative practices. Corker had received financial political support from the payday loan industry based largely in Tennessee, creating the appearance of a quid pro quo action on the part of the senator.

Though Dodd and other committee members were also shown to have recieved past campaign funding from the payday loan industry, the donations were fewer and more characteristic of passive political support.

As well, the original legislation had not been written to favor payday lenders with an extra barrier to regulation. It was only put in place after Corker's lobbying.

This story might have been angled to celebrate Corker and Dodd's bipartisan deal-making, which would have undermined reporting on the actual content of the bill. Instead, the reporter gave the reader important information on how political donations in this case, may have effected an industry consumers use every day.

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