Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Do campaign donations matter to community revitalization?

State Rep. Powell
During and after a town hall meeting held in South Nashville a little over a week ago, I received some email correspondence from Mike Peden about important questions he had for elected officials about the community impact of developments. The companies funding those developments, Advance Financial in particular, have political action committees that dole private campaign donations to candidates for public office. Mike gave me permission to piece together his emails here into a narrative for the sake of underscoring the influence that money has over growth that can undermine our quality of life.

According to Mike, elected officials in attendance included state representative Jason Powell, CM Fabian Bedne and CM Jason Potts. Also attending representing the Mayor's Office was Daniel Wainwright. Mike has an office on Nolensville Pike and he says that he is particularly concerned about the impact of the growth of high-interest payday lenders along the corridor. Given that the town hall meeting encouraged questions about "revitalization of Nolensville Pike", Mike had some questions for Rep. Powell in particular:

I asked him how much money he has taken from the payday loan industry and he refused to answer.  He has, of course, taken several contributions from them.

I spoke to him on the phone a couple of months ago and he told me that he has no problem with payday loan stores, and that he knows the people at Advance Financial, and they are "good people".

Nolensville Pike
Mike tells me that everyone he talks to in South Nashville has a problem with the explosion of predatory lenders. It seems to me an entirely fair question to pose to any elected official who has influence over how a community grows and develops: have they accepted funds from owners of those shops? If they have, it should be stated unequivocally so that voters can determine for themselves whether such influence over quality of life suits their interests.

Not everyone who attended the meeting was happy with Mike for raising questions about the influence of the donations of predatory lending companies on conditions along Nolensville Pike. He forwarded me emails that accused him of having a "political agenda." How is it a political agenda to ask a politician to identify the sources of his financial support which might lead him to support certain developments that neighbors have issues with? It seems common sense to me.

I remember that right after CM Erica Gilmore was elected the first time to represent the district where I live, a Germantown leader told me straight up that several people in that neighborhood donated an impressive amount of money to her campaign to leverage their historic overlay, which she eventually took to passage. People understand that this is how the system currently operates. There is no other agenda in learning about who is beholden to whom. It is a natural question we should be asking.

Jason Powell's second quarter campaign finance report shows a $1,000 donation from the Advance Financial PAC. What is the harm in asking Rep. Powell to be publicly accountable to South Nashville constituents for the wealthy special interests that could influence how he supports revitalization along Nolensville Pike?


  1. Is this not public information? I agree that it should be public.

    It should be noted that someone can "have no problem" with payday lenders and believe they perform a valuable service without ever taking a dime from payday lenders. Kind of a chicken-and-egg thing with the money.

    As with mattress stores, I don't get why there are so many payday lenders. Business must be booming.

  2. Companies like Advance Financial should be MUCH more highly regulated in Tennessee. The name you and I choose to call them - predatory lenders - says it all. On the other hand, discussions about revitalization of a corridor should more appropriately be focused on zoning and other development regulations. How do buildings relate to the street? Are true "complete street" guidelines being followed? Is enough being done to encourage a healthy mix of residential, retail, and office uses essential for a walkable community? Regulation of noxious enterprises do not fit into that discussion very well. I don't want predatory lenders on any street or alley of Nashville, even if they follow the most wonderful design standards in the world.

  3. Your description of how to revitalize a corridor is exactly how Green Hills will be getting a 16-story tower. Relate to the street - check. Complete street guidelines - check. Mix of uses - check. Walkable - check.