Political Notebook

Assembly hopefuls clash over contributions from payday lenders

Kingsburg Democrat Joaquin Arambula, left, and Fresno Republican Clint Olivier will vie for the Assembly District 31 seat vacated by Henry T. Perea.
Kingsburg Democrat Joaquin Arambula, left, and Fresno Republican Clint Olivier will vie for the Assembly District 31 seat vacated by Henry T. Perea. Fresno Bee file

Over the weekend, 31st Assembly District candidate Clint Olivier took to Twitter to slam his main opponent for the seat, Joaquin Arambula, after learning that the Kingsburg Democrat had accepted campaign contributions from two different payday lenders.

It turns out, however, that Olivier – a Fresno Republican serving his second term on the Fresno City Council – also has accepted money from the controversial industry, which offers short-term loans at sky-high interest rates and has been criticized for preying on the poor.

On Feb. 26, 2014 and March 31, 2010, California Financial Service Providers, a payday lender industry group, made $1,000 contributions to Olivier’s Fresno City Council account.

“The emperor has no clothes,” says Arambula’s campaign manager, Richard McIntyre. “This is a classic he was against it before he was for it. It’s a hypocritical flip-flop.”

Olivier says he wished he hadn’t accepted the contribution.

“That was a mistake,” he says now. It is too late to return the cash, as Olivier requested of Arambula, because it has already been spent, Olivier says.

But Olivier isn’t backing off his payday loan criticism of Arambula as their battle to replace Fresno Democrat Henry T. Perea heats up. Perea resigned Dec. 31, and last week Gov. Jerry Brown called an April 5 special election to fill the remaining months of Perea’s current term.

Voters also will be asked to elect a 31st Assembly District member for a full two-year term during a June primary and November general election.

“His raising money from these predators is evidence of what we will get if he is elected,” Olivier said. “I am calling on Dr. Arambula to return the donations immediately.”

Olivier says Arambula is a “one percenter,” and by accepting the payday lender contributions, it shows that he is out of touch with the people he wants to represent, who “struggle on the edges of poverty.”

But Olivier has his own history with the industry.

In November 2013, the council narrowly passed a resolution instructing city staffers to prepare a zoning ordinance amendment with new rules for the lenders. The resolution would require payday loan stores to get a conditional use permit before opening their doors. Such permits set operating standards. New stores also would be required to be at least a quarter-mile from other payday lenders. Oliver was one of three “no” votes.

The following February, California Financial Service Providers made its second $1,000 contribution to Olivier.

By that June, the new regulations were approved on a 7-0 vote, with even the payday lenders in support. Olivier voted “yes,” but at the time didn’t explain his vote or his change of heart.

But it is a change of heart, indeed, he says.

“I am pledging never to take another penny and fight the industry as long as I am in public office,” Olivier says.

As for Arambula, McIntyre says he won’t return the contributions – $1,500 from Axcess Financial Services and $1,500 from Check into Cash of California Inc. What Arambula is instead doing, McIntyre says, is writing a check to to Poverello House for $3,000, the total amount of the contributions.

And with that, McIntyre challenged Olivier to follow suit.

“Frankly, he should write a $1,000 check (to Poverello House) and do the same thing,” McIntyre says, “since vagrancy is one of his big issues.”