Texas GOP Rep. Disputes Conflict of Interest in Vote on Rules for Military Members' Loans

WASHINGTON — Rep. Mac Thornberry pushed to delay greater federal restrictions for high-interest loans for military members while his wife worked for a top lobbying firm for lender trade associations, according to financial records.The restrictions under the Military Lending Act, enacted in July 2015, aim to protect military members from predatory lenders. The Clarendon Republican was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee in April 2015 when he tried to block the restrictions while his wife, Sally, was working for Canfield & Associates, the Washington Examiner first reported. The Washington-based firm lobbies for the Consumer Mortgage Coalition, a trade association of mortgage lenders. Claude Chafin, communications director for the Armed Services Committee, took issue with the Examiner’s report. He said Sally Thornberry was a freelance writer on postal services issues for the company but never lobbied her husband or anyone on its behalf.Chafin said the congressman wanted to delay the restrictions over concerns that they would require lenders to access a government database that may not be able to handle the amount of queries.“The committee was concerned that the database could not support that amount of traffic and would crash, with harmful ramifications for service members and consumers,” Chafin said.Thornberry also pushed for more education on financial literacy for military members, Chafin said, rather than imposing regulations on lenders.Tom Anderson, director of the National Legal and Policy Center’s Government Integrity Project, has been investigating Thornberry’s financial records. He said that although Sally Thornberry did not play a large role at the firm, it was a conflict of interest for her to be employed there given its interests in the financial sector.“It's a massive conflict of interest, no matter how you cut it,” Anderson said. Thornberry’s proposal, which did not become part of the legislation, would have added a provision to the National Defense Authorization Act requiring the secretary of defense to deliver a report to both the Senate and House Armed Services Committees by March 2016. It also stated that no final regulations could be enacted under the Military Lending Act in the 60 days following the report’s submission. The protections, proposed by then-President Barack Obama, required lenders to cap interest rates at 36% annually and banned them from requiring consumers to submit their disputes to arbitration. The Consumer Mortgage Coalition has a lengthy history of lobbying for lenders. It has advocated for provisions for the Mortgage Choice Act and lobbied for revisions to the Truth in Lending Act, which protects consumers from unfair billing.  Continue reading...

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