SB 1367, a bill introduced by Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax), passed the Senate by an overwhelming vote and now has also passed the House of Delegates, where the vote was very close because a bipartisan group of delegates opposed it. This bill, on its way to Bob McDonnell and sure to become law, allows car title companies operating in Virginia to lend to non-residents, effectively overturning laws in Maryland and Washington DC that limit rates that can be charged by the companies which give people loans with exorbitant interest rates if they put the title to their car up as collateral. Neighboring states have effectively driven these leeches out of their jurisdictions by limiting the interest they can gouge from people down on their luck. Dick Saslaw’s bill welcomes them to set up shop in the Old Dominion on our borders and take advantage of people from other jurisdictions.
So, how did car title companies – hardly able to hold themselves up as model lending agencies deserving of legislative support – hit this legal home run in Virginia? Well, they spread around more than $1 million in campaign contributions since 2004. Just last year, Dick Saslaw got $36,750 from check lending and car title companies, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
On the other hand, Mamie Locke, who introduced a bill to limit the interest car loan purveyors could charge, saw her proposal die in committee, not even given the dignity of a vote on the Senate floor. Locke, by the way, got nary a penny from the car loan pimps.
This is a perfect example of what I consider to be the single biggest threat to representative government in the United States. It’s not the angry Tea Party screamers or mindless little Sarah “I’m So Pretty” Palin. No, it’s the combination of the recent Citizens United Supreme Court decision, coupled with our campaign contribution “system” that almost guarantees a politician will have to prostitute himself or herself in order to raise the money needed for a political run.
On just about every level of government, the requirement to beg money from people who are willing to donate in return for favors pollutes the entire political process. I, for one, firmly feel that his distaste for selling little pieces of himself in order to raise money was a major factor in Jim Webb’s decision to retire from the Senate in 2012.
The contributions by car lending companies in Virginia were bipartisan, with the GOP as usual getting more than the Democrats, if one adds up the various amounts. I suppose that occurs because businesses and wealthy people have a natural bias toward Republicans as the politicians most able to be “persuaded” to vote the “business way.” Sadly for representative democracy, however, the rest of us get lost in the system, unable to have our concerns heard over the clanging of the campaign contribution cash registers.
This isn’t a new phenomenon in American politics. It has, however, become far more dangerous to the political process as the cost of running a campaign gets more and more expensive. Our democracy has become for sale to the highest bidder…and that isn’t us.