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Republicans, Koster spar over payday lending donations

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Democratic nominee for governor Chris Koster has come under a new line of attack from the Missouri Republican Party today over his supposed involvement with the payday lending industry.

The Republican Party says that Koster took money from the industry during his time as attorney general after pledging to prosecute payday lenders on the campaign trail.

“Koster promised Missourians that he would protect them by cracking down on payday lenders and the extended auto warranty industry, but instead he stood by while they poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into his campaign coffers,” Missouri Republican Party spokesperson Kristen Blanchard Ansley, said in a statement. “In one week, Missourians have the ability to put an end to Chris Koster’s corrupt pay-to-play, revolving-door style politics.”

Koster’s campaign was quick to respond to the allegations of impropriety, noting that he cracked down on predatory payday loan operations three times from 2011 to 2015. The cases involved online payday lenders not registered in the state of Missouri who were either unlicensed in the state of Missouri or had practiced wage garnishing or charged excess fees.

“The Attorney General always makes decisions based on sound legal reasoning and what’s in the best interest of Missourians,” said Koster campaign spokesman David Turner. “Any allegations to the contrary are baseless and unfounded. He has implemented the strongest conflict-of-interest policy in the country, refunding or returning more than $115,000 during this campaign cycle.

“Furthermore, he has taken a number of actions against payday lenders during his tenure, including shutting down eight operations in 2015.”

However, that’s not to say Koster has not taken money from payday lenders. A Progress Missouri investigation found in 2015 that Koster was the sixth highest recipient of contributions from the payday loan industry to the tune of $78,000 from the Missouri Consumer Lenders PAC from 2007 to 2015.

Yet, the Koster campaign correctly pointed out that Republicans usually take much more money from payday lenders than Democrats. That same study found that PAC’s largest recipients were the House Republican Campaign Committee, the Majority Fund for the Senate GOP, former Rep. Steve Tilley, and then the Missouri Republican Party was tied with the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee for fourth.

The GOP also questioned Koster’s links to the extended auto warranty industry, citing that Koster worked on legislation with the group that would regulate the industry in 2011. It questioned the relationship between Koster and a watchdog organization called the Vehicle Protection Association when he received $220,000 in donations from the group and other extended auto warranty industry groups.

The Attorney General’s office responded to those claims by stating that Koster helped pass bipartisan legislation in 2011 designed to crack down on warranty fraud. The legislation came from the recommendations of a task force he commissioned and was handled in the House by Rep. Todd Richardson. He also led the indictment of the founders of US Fidelis on fraud charges for illegally selling insurance.