Payday Lenders Gave Trump Millions. Then He Helped Them Cash in on the Working Poor.October 26, 2020
Hodges and his wife stuck out when I spotted them sitting alone at a big round lunch table at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the first day of the FiSCA conference. Like most every other attendee, they were white, but also far younger and more fit than their typical counterparts. In a sea of polyester and ill-fitting sportcoats, they were dressed in polos and khakis, looking as if they were attending a stockbroker’s convention. Hodges welcomed the chance to share his views on the industry he was breaking his way into. While the bigger players then were focused on further national expansion, he wanted to convince the wider public that payday lenders were legitimate, not parasitic. “They’ve put much more effort into lobbying and not enough into public relations,” he said of the industry’s old guard. So tainted was the term “payday loan,” he added, that he called the transaction “cash advance,” both at his stores and on television ads for Advance Financial. “The term ‘payday’ has become the black skull and cross bones of our industry,” he said. Still, business was good, not despite the deep recession that had overtaken much of the world in 2008, but because of it: “We’re at record loan volumes,” he boasted then.
Today, as the Hodges operate storefronts across Tennessee and provide online payday loans in another dozen states, they have expanded their political patronage. Hodges contributed more than $150,000 to the Trump campaign in 2016, according to the Federal Election Commission. In 2018, Mike and Tina Hodges gave $125,000 each to America First Action, Trump’s main Super PAC, and Hodges himself chipped in another $250,000 in 2019. Whereas the Hodges and their employees contributed under $10,000 during the 2014 election cycle, the Hodges and others at Advance Financial gave at least $410,000 in the 2016 cycle and at least another $1,045,000 in the lead up to the 2018 midterm elections, according to the FEC. The vast majority of that money went into Republican campaign coffers, including the campaigns of individual House and Senate Republicans and various Republican campaign committees. (Hodges himself donated $125,000 to the RNC in 2019, according to the FEC, and another $60,000 to the National Republican Congressional and Senatorial Committees.) The Hodges and their employees had already contributed another $800,000-plus by the time the recording of Hodges boasting of his connections to the Trump White House emerged.
“It’s hard for me to say this number because if you told me this five years ago, I would have thought you were crazy,” Hodges told the Post. “But we’ve donated about $1.25 million to [Trump’s] campaign so far. So Tina and I have become, I would say, one of the larger donors to the campaign over the last couple of years.” Since then, the Hodges and employees of Advance…