Critics Say Payday Loan Industry Confusing Voters with “Dummy” Petitions

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. --  A petition effort to cap payday loan interest rates at 36 percent is getting some competition that critics say would only serve to confuse voters.

Supporters of the ballot initiative are working to collect the 90,000 signatures needed to put the measure on the November ballot.

"We know that if we get enough signatures, and we get on the ballot that we're going to win," said Molly Fleming-Pierre of Communities Creating Opportunities, the group behind the interest-rate cap petition. "We know that voters in Missouri are sick and tired of triple-digit interest rates."

But Fleming-Pierre and other say that opponents of the measure are working to confuse voters with similar-sounding petitions that would, in fact, limit the ability of the state to regulate the payday loan industry.

"They sent threatening letters to our churches last month, and now they've gotten a few what we call 'dummy' petitions," said Fleming-Pierre, refering to the efforts of a group called Missourians for Equal Credit Opportunity, which has submitted three petitions of their own with the state, and has begun collecting signatures.

The first petition would cap interest rates at 360 percent.

"We think that's a major attempt to confuse voters, because we're trying to cap them at 36 percent, not 360 percent," said Fleming-Pierre. "But as a voter, if you read that quickly you might not notice."

The second petition put forth by Missourians for Equal Credit Opportunity would cap payday loan interest rates at 13.99 percent, but with a catch in the fine print - a clause that says "unless both parties agree otherwise in writing."

The third petition is actually an amendment to the state constitution banning lawmakers from regulating the payday loan industry.

"We're already one of the loosest regulatory states in the entire nation," said Fleming-Pierre. "We have the highest interest rate cap in Missouri of anywhere else in the nation."

Seventeen states currently cap payday loan interest rates at 36 percent. Industry critics say that there's an all-out effort to make sure Missouri doesn't become number 18.

"The payday lending industry (makes) $317 million every single year in interest in the state of Missouri, and they don't want to lose that," said Fleming-Pierre.

A spokesman for Missourians for Equal Credit Opportunity in St. Louis told FOX 4 that his group isn't trying to confuse voters, saying that their petitions are just as legitimate as their opponents. He declined to say if his group is being funded by the payday loan industry.

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