Rent-to-Own Shills Push Anti-Consumer Bill

January 31, 2018

Two GOP lawmakers who are top recipients of rent-to-own contributions are still pressing their bill to loosen state regulations on the industry.

A legislative hearing was held Tuesday on the measure, Senate Bill 637, which would exempt the industry from the state’s consumer protection laws. Under current law, rent-to-own companies are required to disclose to customers their interest rates, which often climb into the triple digits.

The bill would do away with that obligation. And it would limit how much customers could receive if they sued rent-to-own store. Damage awards in class action suits could not exceed $500,000 or 1 percent of a company’s net worth.

The bill’s authors, Rep. Warren Petryk, of Eleva, and Sen. Terry Moulton, of Chippewa Falls, are among the top recipients of the industry’s contributions. Between January 2011 and June 2017, rent-to-own store owners and employees contributed $19,100 in individual, political action committee (PAC) and corporate contributions to about a dozen legislative and statewide candidates and committees – all Republicans. The top recipients, who received $4,000 each from the industry, were Republican Gov. Scott Walker, former Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, and the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee. Petryk accepted $1,750 and Moulton received $500 in contributions from the industry.

The industry’s contributions came from six contributors:

Jeffrey and Cheryl Lebakken, of Eau Claire, owners of Lebakken’s Rent-to-Own, $10,000;

Lebakken’s Rent-to-Own (corporation), $4,000;

Rent-A-Center Good Government PAC, $3,000;

Arthur Sayre, of Corinth, Tex., president of Aaron’s, $1,000;

Mark Speese, of Plano, Tex., founder of Rent-A-Center, $1,000;

Derry Thorson, of Merrill, a Lebakken’s Rent-to-Own employee, $100.

Aaron’s, which is considering doing business in Wisconsin, hired former GOP Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, who is now a lobbyist, in November when the bill was being circulated for legislative support. Fitzgerald is the brother of Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.

Sayre’s $1,000 campaign contribution went to GOP Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch in September 2014.

As the current 2017-18 legislative session wraps up in the coming weeks, Republicans, who control the Senate 18-14, may not yet have enough votes to pass the bill. Democrats will all likely vote against it and at least two GOP senators, Steve Nass, of Whitewater, and Rob Cowles, of Green Bay, say they oppose it.

Most Democrats and other industry critics say rent-to-own stores prey on the poor. But Republicans have been trying for several years to exempt rent-to-own businesses from consumer protection laws. The latest attempt was when Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed similar industry exemptions in his 2013-15 state budget, but GOP legislative leaders removed them.