Jen Kiggans voted in 2020 against reforms for predatory payday lenders who target military members

Rep. Jen Kiggans, R-Va., speaks to reporters as Republicans hold a conference meeting at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

By Michael O'Connor

May 20, 2024

Republican Rep. Jen Kiggans is seeking a second term representing a competitive congressional district in Hampton Roads that is home to many service members and veterans. But while serving in the Virginia Senate, she voted against reforms for payday lenders that target members of the military.

Rep. Jen Kiggans, a Navy veteran who represents Virginia’s 2nd District in Hampton Roads, has made “delivering for veterans” a top issue in her campaign for reelection in one of the most competitive congressional races in the country.

But Kiggans’ rise in electoral politics has come with questions about her stance on reforming payday lenders, which offer short-term loans for small amounts of money at exorbitant interest rates and have a history of targeting service members and their families.

Payday loans have high interest rates—sometimes of up to 400%—but are used by the most vulnerable people who can least afford them. As the sociologist Matthew Desmond notes in his 2023 book Poverty, By America, payday loans and other products in the fringe banking industry “rely on the feverish present-mindedness of the vulnerable, and the industry’s precognition that its customers will remain that way longer than they can bring themselves to admit.”

“Payday lenders do not charge high fees because lending to the poor is risky – even after multiple extensions borrowers must pay up,” Desmond writes. “Lenders extort because they can.”

Kiggans’ vote

While serving in the Virginia Senate, Kiggans voted against a bill, the Virginia Fairness in Lending Act of 2020, aimed at cracking down on payday lending by capping fees and interest rates and requiring affordable payments be spread out over time. The Pew Charitable Trusts estimated the reforms, which passed into law, would save borrowers $100 million in fees a year.

While the bill did not apply only to loans to service members and veterans, they are frequently represented among payday loan customers and payday lenders are known to target military bases. An estimated 44% of active duty military used payday loans in 2017, according to a Javelin Strategy & Research report cited by Military Families Magazine.

“There were a lot of lobbyists hired by payday and car title lenders that didn’t want the law,” said Jay Speer, CEO of the Virginia Poverty Law Center and key player in getting the reforms passed. “It was a tough fight.”

Kiggans did not respond to requests for comments.

First run for Congress

Kiggans faced questions about her vote against the small loan lending reforms when she ran for Congress in 2022.

A political action committee called VoteVets ran an attack ad against Kiggans, saying she voted against cracking down on predatory lenders and their unfair practices that especially hurt military families. The 2nd District Kiggans represents has a large population of veterans and service members. The Hampton Roads TV station WAVY pressed Kiggans about her vote in a 2022 sitdown interview.

“I wouldn’t do anything to harm our veteran population,” Kiggans said in the WAVY interview.

Kiggans pushed back in the WAVY interview on any suggestion she took money from payday lenders, but as WAVY noted in its report, her campaign committees have raised money from a political action committee called GOPAC that raises money from payday lenders among other companies.

GOPAC

Kiggans’ campaign committee, Friends for Jen Kiggans, reported getting a $15,000 donation from GOPAC in October 2019, after reporting getting a $2,500 donation in June 2019.

GOPAC, a political action committee based in Arlington that helps Republicans win elections, helped Kiggans flip Virginia’s 2nd District red in 2022, and Kiggans considers herself “an alumni of GOPAC,” according to a GOPAC memo published last year by the Washington Examiner.

GOPAC raises money from many companies, including payday lenders. The Florida-based payday lender Amscot Financial gave $25,000 to GOPAC, Inc. in December 2021, according to an IRS record. Another payday lender based in Tennessee called Check into Cash gave GOPAC, Inc. $25,000 in March 2021. And the South Carolina-based payday lender Advance America gave GOPAC $50,000 in May 2019.

GOPAC did not respond to requests for comment.

“GOPAC is a powerhouse in American politics and vital to electing commonsense candidates to our state legislatures,” Kiggans is quoted as saying above her headshot in the GOPAC memo.

  • Michael O'Connor

    Michael is an award-winning journalist who has been covering Virginia news since 2013 with reporting stints at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Virginia Business, and Richmond BizSense. A graduate of William & Mary and Northern Virginia Community College, he also covered financial news for S&P Global Market Intelligence.

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