Missouri Supreme Court Paves Way for Payday Lending Ballot Initiative
Missouri citizens won an important victory last week as the state Supreme Court ruled to allow a ballot initiative to cap payday lending rates to go forward this year. Currently, Missouri allows some of the worst predatory lending abuses in the country, with interest rates as high as 400% being perfectly legal. The proposed initiative would cap rates at 36% to break the cycle of inescapable debt and financial difficulty the current rates cause.
The ruling comes as positive news to the Missourians for Responsible Lending campaign, the state coalition that collected over 350,000 signatures to put this petition on the ballot. The coalition includes faith groups like Communities Creating Opportunity, a Kansas City affiliate of the PICO National Network. Their impressive effort came despite a concerted effort by corporate interests to keep voters from weighing in on this issue. As a new report from Public Campaign reveals, special interests have funneled over $2.1 million into a shadowy astro-turf group called Missourians for Equal Credit Opportunity to block the initiative.
As campaign organizers have attested, corporate interests will stoop to truly thuggish tactics to protect their profits. Signature gatherers were followed, physically obstructed, and harassed by “blockers” who tried to thwart their efforts. Molly Fleming-Pierre, an organizer with Communities Creating Opportunities, described the intimidation tactics in May:
“Our people were taunted, mocked, bullied, and verbally assaulted down there. Sometimes it was nine big burly guys to one young female canvasser — trying to kick her off a site. She stayed. One of our pastors had the opposition blockers screaming in her face for nearly 30 minutes that she was a liar. Tails would follow our people, texting their blockers when our people would set up to canvass so that the intimidation was always mobile.”
Someone even broke into an organizer’s car and stole 5,500 signatures shortly before a crucial deadline.
With the ruling, the initiative now only awaits the Secretary of State’s final certification of the signatures collected by Tuesday.