Here’s a snapshot that puts into sharp focus where we are politically this summer:
In a showdown between the U.S. military and the nation’s car dealers over protecting soldiers from predatory lending, the car dealers won.
Even though the commander-in-chief said he wanted the fighting men and women to be shielded by the proposed new consumer protection agency when they went to get a car loan, congressional Democrats Tuesday sided with the car dealers, who would prefer not to face any additional regulation, thank you very much.
After all, they argue, we didn’t cause the financial meltdown, so leave us alone. But according to the Better Business Bureau, new car dealers rank fifth in complaints about lending practices. Used car dealers do a little better; they rank seventh.
The military says its soldiers, focused as they should be on other matters, are particularly vulnerable to predatory lending.
Rosemary Shahan, president of a Sacramento-based nonprofit, Consumers For Auto Reliability and Safety, told the Chicago Tribune that auto dealers pack financing contracts with costly items such as extended warranties and insurance to cover loan payments if the vehicle is wrecked.
One of the more obnoxious forms of predatory lending is something called a yoyo loan. The buyer is told they can drive the car off the lot with a deal they can’t refuse – subject to loan approval. Then the dealer calls back and tells the buyer the initial loan wasn’t approved but they can have the vehicle at a higher interest rate.
The car dealers argue that they’re already subject to other forms of regulation. But they also have other means of persuasion: the National Association of Auto Dealers is among the elite top 20 campaign contributors since 1989, according to the Center For Responsive Politics, with more than $25 million in contributions. During 2009 and the first quarter of 2010, the National Automobile Dealers Association and another group that represents foreign-car franchises, the American International Automobile Dealers Association spent almost $3.5 million to lobby on financial reform and other issues, the Center For Public Integrity reported.
Call President Obama and let him know we need him on the front lines in the battle against predatory lending.