COLUMBUS - Those seeking to undo a new law restricting the payday-lending industry have misrepresented their purpose and even used bribery to persuade voters to sign petitions to put the issue on the ballot, opponents of the repeal effort charged yesterday.
Show us the proof, countered the payday and check-cashing industry, which is racing against the clock to gather at least 241,365 valid signatures of registered Ohio voters to prevent the law from taking effect on Sept. 11. If successful, voters would then be asked to repeal part of the law on Nov. 4.
Toledo City Councilman Frank Szollosi said he was approached at the Toledo African-American Festival in late June to sign a petition that "addresses the closure of the payday loan places."
Mr. Szollosi, a critic of the industry, didn't sign. But he said others followed him and signed the petitions believing they were supporting the closure of such businesses.
"These people were very upset, and they actually turned around and walked back out into the parking lot, and [complained]," he said. "The petitioners ended up leaving after that altercation."
Two homeless people at The Chosen shelter in Hamilton, Ohio, said they were each paid $1 to sign the petition, a felony under state law.
"A couple of people come up with clipboards and telling everybody if they signed their petitions so they could keep their jobs at the payday place they'd give them a dollar," said Charlie Schirmer in a telephone hook-up arranged during a press conference opposing the petitions.
"There were probably of 15 or so of us out there," he said. "I said, 'A dollar just to sign my name? Yeah, here you go.'•"
Opponents of the repeal effort said they plan to research filed petitions to find Mr. Schirmer's name and will ask the local prosecutor to pursue charges against the circulator.
Kim Norris, spokesman for the industry-financed repeal effort, said employees of two organizations hired to circulate the petitions provide extensive training. One company is paying circulators by the hour, the other by the signature.
"If there is actual evidence, they should bring that forward immediately, and we will act swiftly to remove that employee," she said.
"Our circulators are trained very extensively about what they can say. Making vague allegations only serves to undermine the process."
Critics of the payday lending industry offering short-term loans to cash-strapped consumers argue that some borrowers end up trapped in a cycle of taking out a payday loan to pay off another. They argue that a flat $15 fee on a $100 loan, if extended over a year through multiple loans, translates into an annualized interest rate of 391 percent.
The payday lending industry has launched the petition effort to repeal a portion of the law that would cap the annual interest rate at 28 percent and limit how many loans a consumer could take out in a year from such establishments.
The industry contends the law would close more than a thousand of the stores in Ohio and put some 6,000 workers out of jobs.
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