Historically, the Community Financial Services Association of America (CFSA), a trade group that represents and lobbies on behalf of payday loan companies, has held its annual conference in California during odd-numbered years. But this year, the organization plans to host its 2019 event at Donald Trump's golf resort in Doral.
Watchdog groups believe that's no coincidence.
"We see it as a clear conflict of interest," says Sekinah Hamlin of the Center for Responsible Lending. "Previously, they did not meet at his resorts, but it just so happens that once he became president, then they started meeting at his resorts. We don't think it's happenstance, and we think it's a slap in the face to American families."
The payday loan industry has long been criticized for high interest rates and other predatory business practices. Research has shown that many of the companies cluster their stores in low-income, minority neighborhoods and target customers who have almost no means to repay the loans.
Last year, when the CFSA held its conference at Trump National Doral Miami for the first time, the industry's bigwigs were actively lobbying the administration to undo Obama-era consumer protection rules that adversely affected payday loan companies. Critics, including Hamlin, said the arrangement gave the appearance of pay-to-play.
"The payday lenders are taking money they have stolen from hardworking families and giving it to the president to make sure he does right by them," Hamlin told New Times last year.
Almost on cue, the Trump administration responded in kind. Earlier this month, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced plans to roll back the rules, which would have required payday lenders to verify a borrower's ability to repay the loan before handing out a cash advance.
As of now, the deregulations aren't law just yet. The proposal still requires a 90-day comment period, meaning there's still time for the public to object.
"This is harmful for families, and it’s not right," Hamlin says. "We want to make sure that this rises to the surface."
The CFSA's conference is scheduled to take place March 18 through 21.
"The venue is popular with our members, and it meets our needs," CEO Dennis Shaul told the Associated Press.
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