Moore takes job with payday lending group

COLUMBIA -- Former S.C. Sen. Tommy Moore, the Democratic candidate for governor in 2006, is going to work for a national payday lending trade association.

Moore, of Aiken, resigned his Senate seat Saturday. He will become executive vice president of the Community Financial Services Association of America and will move to the Washington area, the association said Monday.

"At this point in my career, I saw an exciting opportunity to take on a new challenge that builds on my long history of supporting and protecting consumers," Moore said in a release from the association. "CFSA shares those goals, and I've been impressed with the great strides they have taken to educate consumers about responsible use of the service."

Efforts to reach Moore directly were unsuccessful Monday. Moore would be the national coordinator of lobbying efforts, according to CFSA.

State law says Moore could not lobby his former colleagues in the S.C. Legislature for a year after his resignation. But Moore will move to Virginia, which is in the midst of a fierce battle over payday lending regulations.

Moore's resignation shocked Palmetto State political observers, and Moore's choice of employer disappointed some. A 26-year veteran of the Senate, Moore had the respect of Democrats as well as Republicans and was known as the "go-to guy" to break logjams and move legislation forward.

"He has meant so much to this state, and his leaving creates a void in the Senate that will be hard to fill," Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, said. "He was always known in the Senate as the person to go to when there was a particularly difficult problem and when results were needed."

But John Rouf, research director for S.C. Fair Share, a nonprofit critical of payday lending, said Moore's decision was "deeply disappointing."

In his statement, Moore said that payday lending "remains misunderstood by those unfamiliar with its benefits to working families. I look forward to dispelling misperceptions about the service."

Rouf called that "standard industry claptrap."

"I assume they wrote that for him," Rouf said. "It's the same nonsense they've been peddling for years as they've tried to defend this predatory and exploitive industry."

Rouf and others claim payday lenders lock borrowers into a cycle of debt they can't escape, through predatorily high interest rates often as high as 390 percent annually and revolving loans. Georgia banned payday loans in 2004.

But Sen. John Land, D-Clarendon and one of Moore's closest friends in the Senate, said Moore should not come in for that kind of criticism. Payday lending, Land said, is a "lawful business in this nation."

It's no different, Land said, then when Carroll Campbell left the governor's office in 1995 and went to work as a Washington lobbyist for the life insurance industry, another lawful business.

Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, has tried to strengthen state regulations on payday lenders, an effort that died in the legislative session that ended in June.

Ford said Moore would bring the industry credibility.

"I don't like payday lenders," Ford said, "but there's a need out there. Chances are a person like Tom Moore will bring credibility and make them do as close to the right thing as possible."