One of the most important responsibilities of Idaho’s Attorney General is to protect consumers from con artists and other operators that cause harm to Idahoans. When I took over the AG office in 1983, the consumer protection division, which had been started by Tony Park and Wayne Kidwell, no longer existed. It took a great deal of time and effort to get it back up and running. From that time to the present, the AG’s office has collected hundreds of millions of dollars for the State and its consumers from those who cheat Idahoans or cause public harm. That successful effort was largely due to the unrelenting action of Lawrence Wasden against tobacco, vaping and opioid companies.
Over the years, businesses that violate laws to protect the public have tried to curry favor with state AGs across the country, hoping to avoid being brought to justice. Campaign contributions are a favorite tool of these operators. In order to avoid improper entanglements and conflicts of interest, AG candidates must be on the lookout for suspect contributions and refuse to accept them. The AG is Idaho’s chief lawyer and must set the example for acting in an ethical manner.
It has been surprising to see some of the contributions that have been pocketed by Attorney General candidate Raul Labrador. They are from suspect organizations that pose a real conflict of interest for the AG’s office. Accepting contributions from them conjures the truism in the old German proverb, “whose bread I eat, his song I sing.”
Labrador has banked money from two payday loan businesses that charge grossly inflated interest and have a history of mistreating borrowers. Advance Financial Administrators LLC, of Nashville, Tennessee, donated $2,000 to Labrador on August 31. This payday lender has charged a top annual percentage rate of 360% in some of the states where it operates. The Better Business Bureau in Nashville has a long list of complaints against the company on its website. A review posted on the Consumer Affairs website by a Wisconsin couple complains they “pay over $1000 per month for a $4000 loan and with each statement the balance increases.”
Another payday lender, RS, LLC, of Red Rock, Oklahoma, contributed $2,500 to Labrador on August 31. It is linked to the Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Oklahoma. The organization has engaged in a scheme to misuse the Tribe’s sovereign immunity to shield payday lenders from prosecution for abusive lending practices, including interest rates that have ranged as high as 560%. One lending entity fronted by the group, American Web Loan, had to disgorge $141 million in a class action settlement.
Another troubling contribution to the Labrador campaign was a $5,000 payment received from the Philadelphia-based Cozen O’Connor law firm on July 31. The firm specializes in defending businesses against lawsuits brought by state Attorneys General to protect their citizens from consumer fraud and other unsavory business practices. The firm makes it a practice to cultivate gullible state AGs so as to gain influence and favored treatment, which does not serve the interests of the consuming public.
Labrador may not understand that these contributors are trying to curry favor. He should immediately return these gifts because they create a clear conflict of interest. The AG must give undivided loyalty to the people of Idaho and shun the support of out-of-state interests that would victimize Idaho consumers or endanger public health with hazardous products like tobacco, opioids and the like.