By Marianne Goodland
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
More than $9,000 of the campaign donations John Suthers collected from representatives of the payday lending industry actually came from their June fundraiser for the attorney general’s campaign.
Suthers, who is running for re-election to a second term in November, reported $11,775 in campaign contributions from payday lenders in a ten-day period beginning June 28.
According to a campaign spokesman, payday lenders hosted the fundraiser for Suthers — which he attended — that brought in $9,175 in donations from eleven separate entities, both people and corporations, representing payday lenders from Colorado and nationwide.
According to Andrew Cole of the Starboard Group, which handles fundraising for Suthers’ campaign, the fundraiser was a private event that included only Suthers and the representatives of the payday lending companies. Cole and other campaign representatives did not return numerous calls to identify the event’s location or other details.
Suthers’ acceptance of those contributions, plus another $2,600 in contributions from payday lenders that came in during the next ten days, has been the source of complaints from consumer advocates who claimed the donations were intended to influence Suthers as his office wrote new rules for payday lending, the result of HB 10-1351.
The new rules were adopted last week by a subcommittee of the Council of Advisors on Consumer Credit, along with the administrator of the Uniform Consumer Credit Code, a division within the office of the Attorney General. Attorney General’s spokesman Mike Saccone told The Colorado Statesman that Suthers had no hand in writing the rules.
Corrine Fowler of the Colorado Progressive Coalition testified during the Aug. 31 hearing that an interpretation of the rules, issued by the UCCC, changed substantially between the first draft on June 18, and the second draft on July 29. The original interpretation said the payday lenders would have to refund, on a pro-rated basis, the origination fee for the loan. But the revised interpretation said the origination fee was fully earned at the time of the transaction and hence would not have to be refunded at all. The difference could mean millions of dollars for payday lenders, and Fowler and others charged that the timing of the campaign contribution was “questionable,” given that it came between the first interpretation and the revised one.
After last week’s three-hour hearing, Udis reversed herself on the revised interpretation and went back to the original premise, that consumers should be able to get at least a partial refund of the origination fee if the loans are paid back early, a decision cheered by Fowler and the original sponsor of HB 1351, Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver. Udis also made a campaign contribution to Suthers, a $25 donation that was received on July 14.
The campaign contributions also have been an issue in the election race between Republican Suthers and his Democratic challenger, Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett.
Garnett has called upon Suthers to return the campaign contributions, and he repeated that call on Tuesday. Garnett told The Statesman it wasn’t surprising that the campaign contributions came in on one day. “It’s obvious they were being coordinated to influence the rule-making process,” he said. “It’s just one more reason why he should have given them back.”