Davis attacks Abbott over payday lenders, but cites wrong contributions

Davis attacks Abbott over payday lenders, but cites wrong contributions

Credit: WFAA

Sen. Wendy Davis and Attorney General Greg Abbott face off over payday loan business contributions.

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by JASON WHITELY

WFAA

Posted on January 4, 2014 at 3:58 PM

DALLAS — Sen. Wendy Davis went on the offense Friday in her quest to become the first Texas Democrat elected governor in two decades. But her campaign cited wrong information in an attack on GOP rival Greg Abbott.

Davis criticized Abbott over the payday loan industry, saying he created a loophole that lets lenders operate outside state laws.

"A few years ago, he [Abbott] wrote a letter giving a green light [and] allowing payday lenders to operate in the particular loophole that they're in in Texas today," Davis told News 8. "Though I've been fighting for the last six years to close it, I've experienced one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in the Capitol."

Davis made the comments during an interview for "Inside Texas Politics," to be broadcast Sunday morning at 9:05 a.m. on WFAA Channel 8.

Abbott's campaign fired back with this statement from spokesman Avidel Huerta:

"Sen. Davis’ claim is patently false. She is referring to a Jan. 2006 letter from the AG’s office to Leslie Pettijohn who was the Consumer Credit Commissioner at the time. The letter said in part, ‘On its face, the CSO model does not appear to be prohibited under Texas law. Any discussion of whether this model is the best public policy choice for the state of Texas is one that must be addressed by the legislature and has not been explored by this office.’ The CSO or Credit Services Organization Act is the legislation that payday lenders operate under."

Then came the campaign e-mails.

Abbott’s staff said Davis collected $9,525 in campaign contributions from the very payday lenders that she criticizes. The money came from Advance America, Ace Cash Express, Cash America and Cottonwood Financial, which owns Cash Store. Records from the Texas Ethics Commission prove the donations went to Davis.

But her team then claimed Abbott received substantially more from the following payday lenders and their employees, a total of  $386,750:

  • $165,000 from Trevor Ahlberg of Cottonwood Financial
  • $100,250 from Tracy Young/TitleMax/TMX Finance
  • $111,500 from Cash America’s political committee
  • $10,000 from Consumer Lenders PAC

WFAA verified the Consumer Lenders PAC donations in an online search at the Ethics Commission website. But the Davis campaign figures for Trevor Ahlberg, Tracy Young and Cash America didn’t add up on the state database.

A closer look at the website with official campaign contributions since January 2000 shows duplicate entries for those individuals with the same dates which apparently were mistakenly added together by Davis' staff.

After subtracting the extra amounts in the duplicate entries, Ahlberg, Young and Cash America actually contributed $99,000 to Abbott:

  • $55,000 from Trevor Ahlberg of Cottonwood Financial
  • $12,500 from Tracy Young/TitleMax/TMX Finance
  • $21,500 from Cash America’s political committee
  • $10,000 from Consumer Lenders PAC

Davis' campaign said it initially "misinterpreted" a source it cited, after News 8 questioned the amounts.

Despite the discrepancy, Abbott still received 10 times more from payday lenders than Davis.

But several hours later, Davis’ staff sent News 8 a longer list of Abbott donors from the payday loan industry, adding nine new names to the four it previously provided.

Her campaign said a second review of state data with the additional names show the attorney general actually received $355,100. But Davis' campaign appears to have made the same mistake again in calculating duplicate entries which sometimes appear on the state website.

A more thorough review by WFAA of the official figures show all 13 payday lenders and their employees that Davis' team cited actually gave Abbott about $200,000 – significantly more than Davis, but far less than what her campaign originally said on Friday.

A spokesman for Abbott called the mistake “more theatrics from Sen. Davis and her campaign.”

But Saturday afternoon, the Davis campaign clarified its initial calculations in an email to reporters.

“In an effort to calculate the amount of money Greg Abbott has received from payday lenders, we reviewed information available on the Texas Ethics Commission website and inadvertently counted some payday lender contributions that had been listed in duplicate,” a campaign spokesperson said.  “After recalculating and eliminating any duplicates, we believe that Greg Abbott has accepted at least $195,000 from predatory lenders through July 2013.  There is no question that the payday lending industry is a major supporter of Greg Abbott and has invested heavily in his campaigns.

“Calculating the exact amount of payday lender money Abbott has taken during his almost a dozen years as Attorney General may be somewhat difficult for his opponents and the press; however, there is one person who can say exactly how much money has been given to Greg Abbott by the payday lenders and that’s Greg Abbott himself,” the statement added.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story reported higher donation amounts to Abbott because duplicate campaign contributions were mistakenly added when initially reviewing the official database from the Texas Ethics Commission.

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