The campaign of U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, sent a letter to several Lexington television stations Thursday demanding they take down an ad that claims he would let payday lenders take advantage of military personnel.
With Honor, a super PAC that supports Democratic candidate Amy McGrath in Central Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District, launched an ad Wednesday that criticized Barr’s support of the payday lending industry. In it, the ad notes that Barr has received campaign money from payday lenders and says he would let them take advantage of military families.
“Barr took $36,000 from payday lenders, then let them stick our troops with outrageous fees,” the ad says. “It’s what’s wrong with Congress.”
In response, Barr’s attorney sent a letter to WLEX, WKYT, WTVQ and WDKY demanding that they pull the “false advertisement.”
“‘We Respect Our Troops’ is a deeply dishonorable ad from a group that should, given the name it has assumed, hold itself to a higher standard,” wrote Chris Ashby, a lawyer for the National Republican Campaign Committee. “It misrepresents the effect of Rep. Barr’s vote for the Financial CHOICE Act, and misleads your viewers. Your station should — and, under the terms of its license and applicable law, must — pull this false advertising from the air immediately.”
The letter comes days after Democratic candidate Amy McGrath said Barr ran a misleading ad about her stance on health care.
At issue is Barr’s vote on a bill called the Financial CHOICE Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives with Barr’s support but faltered in the Senate. The bills intention was to repeal provisions of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, in part by limiting the power of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency that enforces financial regulations.
There is a line in the bill that says “the Agency may not exercise any rulemaking, enforcement, or other authority with respect to payday loans, vehicle title loans, or other similar loans.”
Barr’s campaign says the ad is misleading because there are existing laws that protect military families from payday lenders, specifically the 2006 Military Lending Act. That law passed before Barr was a member of Congress.
It put a cap on the amount of interest small-dollar lenders could charge on loans to military families. When veterans groups raised concerns about the Financial CHOICE Act, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, said the bill would not undo protections for veterans.
“The Financial CHOICE Act does not weaken the laws that specifically protect active duty and retired members of our armed forces, such as the Military Lending Act or the Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act,” Hensarling wrote in June 2017.
With Honor stood behind their ad Thursday, saying Barr had not disputed any of the facts they presented in the spot.
“He doesn’t actually have to be addressing the Military Lending Act to be opening our veterans to predatory lending,” said Ellen Zeng a spokeswoman With Honor.
The group said it was focused on how the proposed financial reform would have weakened the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Veterans and military families would be affected if the regulatory agency didn’t have the authority to enforce federal financial rules and regulate payday lenders, it said.
With Honor supports both Republican and Democratic candidates who are military veterans, including three Republicans who voted for the Financial CHOICE Act.
Though With Honor is not part of McGrath’s campaign, she did make payday lending a focus early in her campaign.
Barr has received $36,550 from payday lenders since his 2014 campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He’s received $7,500 from payday lenders in 2018.
In June of 2017, she criticized Barr’s support of the Financial CHOICE Act and said it was part of the reason she wanted to challenge him for his seat in congress.
“One of the things I have to worry about with my young Marines, is that they would get into financial trouble because they’re not paid much, because they move around a lot, because they have young families, because when a tragedy strikes and they have to fly home or something like that, they resort to these payday loan guys that charge them exorbitant amounts of interest,” McGrath said at the time. “And it’s guys like congressman Barr, because he gets funded by these banks and these payday loan folks, that insert these lines in these bills that end up hurting our Marines, it hurts our military families, it puts them in a cycle of debt.”
McGrath is not the first candidate to criticize Barr over his support of the payday lending industry. In 2014, Democratic candidate Elizabeth Jensen criticized Barr for his opposition to a Department of Justice effort to crack down on online payday lenders.
McClatchy reporter Lesley Clark contributed from Washington D.C.