Sunday, February 19, 2012

Enter the pawnbroker

Fridley Pawn America, photo by author
In their ongoing celebration of the wonders of the free market, Presidents Day will be ticket scalper and pawn broker day at the Minnesota House. On the calendar for the day are two bills, one would allow pawnbrokers to charge fees for storing pawned collateral, the other would prohibit practices that frustrate ticket scalping. It's a free market double-header - what could be more American than that?

Minority Leader Paul Thissen calls SF 1268 the "Pawn America bill" for good reason. As Ron Elwood from Legal Aid pointed out in his May 2011 testimony, this bill is written to satisfy the desires of a single company, Pawn America.

The ubiquitous Pawn America commercials that show CEO Brad Rixmann as a ventriloquist conversing with "Eggmo" could be recast with the Republican legislative leadership as the dummy. Rixmann has built his legislative influence the old-fashioned way, with lots and lots of campaign contributions. In 2011, Rixmann gave $50,200 to the Republican Party of Minnesota, $22,000 to the Republican Senate Victory Fund, and $37,500 to the House Republican Campaign Committee. His 2010 and 2011 contributions to these three entities are just shy of $200,000 combined. This makes Rixmann one of the biggest contributors to the Minnesota Republican Party, almost in the same category as Stanley Hubbard and Bill Cooper.

If SF 1268 passes, pawnbrokers would be allowed to charge fees for the storage and maintenance of pawned collateral. There is no statutory limit to these fees, other than they be "reasonable." Similar to the broader banking industry, fees represent a source of new revenue even if new regulations from the Consumer Financial Protection Agency limit the exorbitant interest rates that they charge.

In addition to defending the right of pawnbrokers to charge more fees for a pawn transaction, the Republican majority will defend the inalienable right of ticket scalpers to resell tickets. Technology, such as e-tickets, could make it more difficult for ticket resellers to mark up their products. Annette Meeks, CEO of the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, defends the right to scalp tickets as a "personal right" to sell what you own. That's a quaint notion in a world where ticket scalpers are a $4.5 billion industry that uses computer technology to scoop up large quantities of tickets, and then turn around and resell tickets at a much higher price online. Hey, that's the free market at work!

There's no time for job creation at the Capitol, but the Republican party has plenty of time to carry water for their big campaign contributors. If this isn't what's meant by "crony capitalism," what does it mean?

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