Academic Payday Lending Lobbyists
We like to think of academic researchers as fair, objective, and politically neutral. Even though we’ve all seen Inside Job and know not to trust economists, the rest of academia seems relatively safe. Right?
Well, Freakonomics has done some really great research and found evidence that researchers took money from a Payday Lending lobbyist group called Consumer Credit Research Foundation, or CCRF, in return for editing rights of their journal articles (hat tip Ernie Davis).
Here’s a list of academics, only 40% of whom are economists, that took money from CCFR or otherwise had contact with CCFR:
- Jonathan Zinman, an economist at Dartmouth,
- Jennifer Lewis Priestley, professor of data science and statistics at Kennesaw State University in Georgia,
- Marc Fusaro, economist at Arkansas Tech University,
- Todd Zywicki, law professor at George Mason School of Law (now renamed Antonin Scalia Law School), and
- Victor Stango, professor of management at University of California, Davis.
Not all the above are necessarily guilty of truly terrible stuff; FOIA requests are still pending on some of them.
But some FOIA requests have come through. In particular, email chains that show Fusaro let a lawyer from CCRF write whole paragraphs of pro-payday lending propaganda that made it verbatim into his paper, decrying the phrase “cycle of debt” as meaningless. This is in spite of Fusaro’s claim in this same paper that CCRF had held no editorial control. And it looks like CCRF funneled about $24,000 to Fusaro for his trouble, maybe more.
Also, Fusaro had a co-author on the paper who managed to talk to the Consumer Affairs Committee in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives about the “academic research” she had done with an economics professor, which showed great things about payday lending. And since most Payday Lending regulation happens at the state level – although the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is considering rules to create national standards – the statehouse is the end-goal for such lobbyists.
Professor Priestley also got funding for a pro-payday lending paper, and in spite of the fact that various FOIA requests are being legally blocked, one of her footnotes is exactly the same wording as we saw above:
There’s more, look at the article.
I’m so glad Freakonomics is doing this kind of investigative reporting. The CFPB has enough work on its hands without so-called impartial research being compromised left and right.