Warning: Payday Lenders Interrogating IM 21 Petition Circulators at Home

Two South Dakotans who circulated the petition for Initiated Measure 21, the real 36% rate cap on payday loans that we get to vote on in November, tell me a man came to their homes today to ask them questions from the following script:

Give Us Credit South Dakota, door-to-door interrogator's script, 2016.06.10.
Give Us Credit South Dakota, door-to-door interrogator’s script, 2016.06.10.

The source of these questions, Give Us Credit South Dakota, was the first ballot question committee formed by the payday lending industry to fight the 36% rate cap. Led by Rapid City man Bradley Thuringer, this committee has received nearly every dollar of its funding from Rod Aycox of Select Management Resources, parent company of North American Title Loans, a big player in the payday lending industry. Thuringer reported (year-end and pre-primary) spending over $646,000 of Rod Aycox’s money as of May 27, 2016, on efforts to oppose IM 21. (That’s in addition to the over $1.778 million Rod Aycox gave to Lisa Furlong, year-end and pre-primary,  to get his decoy measure, Amendment U, on the ballot to confuse voters and sabotage IM 21.)

Rod Aycox must be sending more money, because Bradley Thuringer appears to be sending out a worker to interrogate IM 21 petition circulators and dig for evidence that could be used in a court challenge to the petition that could remove IM 21 from the ballot. The Secretary of State already rejected the payday lenders’ first specious petition challenge; Thuringer appears to be using Aycox’s money to gather evidence for a specious court challenge. Such a challenge may not succeed in revoking the will of South Dakota voters and protecting the payday lenders from the wrath of the electorate, but it could distract the IM 21 ballot question committee from connecting with voters and drain their time and money in a messy court case.

So who’s knocking on circulator’s doors and trying to coax them into doing the payday lenders’ dirty work for them?

Michael Napier, Facebook post, 2014.09.07.
Michael Napier, Facebook post, 2014.09.07.

Both circulators with whom I spoke identified their interrogator as Rapid City resident Michael Napier.

Senator John Thune with Michael Napier, Facebook photo, 2016.04.07.
Senator John Thune with Michael Napier, Facebook photo, 2016.04.07.

Napier is a good Republican, taking time to post this shot of himself with Senator John Thune in early April between positive posts about Donald Trump.

What does Napier do when he’s not interrogating petition circulators and posing with Republicans? He works for a Republican in the poverty industry:

Michael Napier, LinkedIn page, excerpt, downloaded 2016.06.10.
Michael Napier, LinkedIn page, excerpt, downloaded 2016.06.10.

Napier is a bail bondsman for Speedy Release, which belongs to Dan Lederman, former Republican South Dakota legislator from 2009 until his resignation on March 30, 2015, shortly after IM 21 sponsors Steve Hickey and Steve Hildebrand gained some positive national press about their impending petition drive to cap payday lending rates. During his last Session in Pierre, Lederman co-sponsored 2015 Senate Bill 166, Senator Corey Brown’s proposal to double the number of signatures Hickey and Hildebrand would need to collect to place IM 21 on the ballot. (Popular outcry stifled SB 166.)

Bail bonds shops and payday lending stores enjoy a certain sinister symbiosis. Bail bondsmen and payday lenders prey on poor people in dire straits and often set up shop on the same blocks. Some bail bondsmen recommend payday loans and car title loans as financing options.

Another bail bondsman working for Dan Lederman is Pat Powers of Brookings. When he’s not pulling defendants out of the county jail and into unnecessary debt mandated by government, Powers writes absurdist critiques of Initiated Measure 21, the latest contending that the grassroots South Dakota effort to cap payday lending rates is really part of an out-of-state culture-warrior conspiracy to shut down payday lenders. Similar absurdity appeared in a fake newspaper circulated on behalf of District 19 Legislative candidates whom Powers strongly favored: that campaign flyer included an essay which dinged IM 21 for receiving less than a third of its money from out-of-state donors but which said nothing about the effort to defeat IM 21 being funded almost 100% by an out-of-state corporation.

Pat Powers is the only member of the media I can think of who has obtained a sit-down interview with Lisa Furlong, sponsor of Rod Aycox’s fake 18% rate cap. Powers fawned over Furlong and propagandized for her astroturf petition drive rather than challenging the blatant lies told by Furlong and her circulators.

Powers has worked for Lederman previously on propaganda efforts for Lederman’s Rushmore PAC.

Lisa Furlong used to live in Dakota Dunes before moving to an apartment up the road in the less swanky part of North Sioux City. Dan Lederman’s house in Dakota Dunes is less than a mile away from the Furlongs’ old place.

Dots, dots, dots… and a few more connections. Hmmm….

Michael Napier, Rapid City bail bondsman and Dan Lederman employee, is working for the payday lenders to undermine the real 36% rate cap. He will likely fail in his efforts, because, unlike the lying mercenaries Rod Aycox hired through Lisa Furlong to circulate the fake rate cap petition and disrupt the IM 21 petition drive, the folks who put the 36% rate cap on the ballot are real South Dakotans who know the rules and respect the petition process.


38 Responses to Warning: Payday Lenders Interrogating IM 21 Petition Circulators at Home

  1. Steve Hickey

    It’s a good fight, folks. Sorry that those who support the cause pay a bit of a price in this sort of harassment and worse. Remember these are the people who gave us SD’s most unscrupulous signature drive last summer – the fake 18%rs – all out of state, breaking all the rules, harassing a local business owner and so much more. Such irony here that they have the means and money to intimidate and harass real SDns who circulated petitions legally. It’s their only hope and they know it …to derail the 36% rate cap on a technicality (like they did in Missouri). The voters are on our side. The benefit of all this is that it becomes clearer who the players really are in SD – Powers, Lederman, etc. I was unfriended at DWC for trying to get Powers to be honest and disclose his relationships to this ballot measure. He can blow smoke about being a jerk. No, I asked a question. We also appreciate the earned press this gives our cause. If this stuff pisses you off, make a substantial donation to http://www.captheratesd.com/contributions.html In deciding what to give, my plea is to give what you would give a dear loved one (a son or granddaughter) to get them out of the clutches of a debt trap – $300, $2000. There is no better way to multiply your money against this industry.

  2. Steve Hickey

    Unfriended? I mean blocked at DWC. It’s a loss to that blog that people like me click and interact elsewhere.

  3. Steve Hickey

    And when they come to your door, it’s okay to say you aren’t interested to answer their questions so goodbye. It’s okay to photograph them and record it.

  4. Lanny V Stricherz

    Chuck Brennan is also a contributor to advertising in this situation, either directly or indirectly and he also has two more industries related to the two mentioned in the article, pawn shops and casinos.

    Additionally he has used his “rock’n roll academy” which connects kids with some of the big names in music, and now his Badlands racetrack (the former Huset’s Speedway) and radio station to show what a great guy he is so folks won’t think that he is all bad for his participation in taking advantage of folks.

  5. Donald Pay

    The first time this sort of intimidation of circulators and signers of petitions was tried was during the nuclear waste vote in 1984. At that time the person who came to your door did not identify themselves, but said they were “conducting an investigation….” That was designed to rattle people. That effort was headed up by an ex-gumshoe who was living in the Pierre area. Connect the dots.

  6. Steve Hickey

    The word I made up for all that, Lanny, is cathartic philanthropy. That is where a person visibly gives some back to make themselves and others feel better about the fact that it and much much more was all ill-gotten gain.

  7. Circulators, do record the folks who come to your door on this issue. Knowing who’s doing the payday lenders’ P.I. work will help us connect more dots.

    But while you are perfectly within your rights to tell them nothing, you are also free to respond to them with exactly four totally truthful words: “I witnessed every signature.”

    Now if we could only find the time to go ask Lisa Furlong’s circulators these questions.

  8. Donald, who was that gumshoe? Is he still in business?

  9. Donald Pay

    Cory, I don’t know. Ask Pat Powers. He might know the guy.

  10. That wouldn’t surprise me, given the connections that are showing up at people’s doors.

  11. Excellent job connecting the slimy dots together! Rebecca would be very proud of you. :)

  12. PP lives about 6 blocks from me. You don’t suppose he’d drag himself down the street to inquire? I didn’t think so.

    I think I could treat such a person at least as well as I treated the LDS “missionaries” who were at my house last Sunday.

  13. I wonder if Glacial Lakes Energy CEO Jason Seuer is behind this? Sound like the same program they used to scare the whimps on the Watertown City council to not approve a petition for a public vote that affected them.

    My advice is do not talk to them- follow the money trail these crooked lenders stand to lose millions if the 36% cap passes.

    I thought all protests of the petitions were expired.

  14. mike from iowa

    Who was Nicholas Meinhardt, agent for NUclear Waste Vote Coalition?

  15. Oooooh,they’re showing up at people’s houses? Awesome! They can feel free to stop at my house since I gathered a few of those petition signatures as well. My hand held camera will be ready to go,the security cameras on the house record everything (since there are some pretty shady individuals that are up to no good around here),and my German Shepherd might want to say hello. I’m also a wee bit of a smart ass too so a visit from them could be quite entertaining. ;)

  16. Bill Dithmer

    What were those circulators names so we know they are real?

    The Blindman

  17. If these clowns come knocking on my door they better have badges and a warrant.

  18. Thanks, Rich! I need more dots!

    Blindman, I’m holding on that info for the sources’ sake… but I can say that a third circulator contacted me today and confirmed a separate experience with a different person coming to the door to ask about the source’s actions while circulating. Three circulators accosted by two different investigators. It’s really happening.

  19. Sam, we have that 30-day window after a petition is file to challenge the petition by filing an affidavit with the Secretary of State. That window is long closed for all petitions. However, individuals can submit challenges to circuit court at any time and seek judicial overturning of any petition up until the ballots have been printed.

  20. Donald Pay

    Who was Nick Meinhardt? asks Mike from Iowa. So, I hijack this thread for a little history lesson,

    Nick was involved in a number of South Dakota issues in the 70s and 80s. He came to South Dakota to work for the American Friends Service Committee, where he worked on tribal sovereignty, poverty and resource issues. In this work, he was allied, at times, with the American Indian Movement, and he became more and more involved in issues in Indian issues.

    Nick then went to work with the Black Hills Alliance, which was an anti-nuclear group that had organized as an Indian-white coalition to fight nuclear power, nuclear waste and uranium mining issues. BHA was one of several groups working to oppose uranium mining issues in the late 70s-early 80s, and also were involved in the ETSI fight. They did a lot of the research, intervened in permit hearings, and filed lawsuits, etc. The Alliance splintered just as the low-level radioactive waste issue heated up in 1983-84.

    Nick was a crucial player in the nuclear waste issue. His biggest task at first was to serve as a catalyst to mend fences between various groups and factions in the South Dakota environmental community, which had problems working together through the uranium fight. His next task was to convince all these groups that an initiative on the nuclear waste issue would be the best way to address the matter. Not everyone was on-board, wanting the see whether a Legislative study committee would address the issue correctly. Nick had the foresight to not jump the gun and start the initiative without backing of all the groups, and when the Legislature caved to Chem-Nuclear, Nick was able to get everyone on board with an initiative. He helped organize several meetings across the state to come up with initiative language, formed the Nuclear Waste Vote Coalition and led the successful petition drive. He led both the 1984 and 1985 campaigns, the first supporting the initiative, the second opposing the low-level radioactive waste compact that was written by Chem-Nuclear.

    Nick then started the effort to address the heap leach mining issue, organizing the first petition drive for an initiative on that issue. After putting in so much time on these issues, Nick was burning out, and that first mining initiative was falling short of signature goals. Nick was more or less forced out in order to save that petitioning effort. He more or less dropped out of sight after that.

    Nick was a great person, and I think all he needed was a break from the day-to-day grind of working on these issues. I lost touch with him, as did most people in South Dakota. I wish he would have come back to the movement, but I’m sure he found somewhere else to contribute his talents.

  21. Thank you for that story Donald Pay; and reminder. I lived through that in the mid-80’s. My neighbors and I (back then) went to Pierre to fight the uranium test drilling that was being pushed in our county and beyond. I wish I remembered all the “legislators” in Pierre at that time who were about to see this position pass. It was a very, very scary time. You look back, in history, how many companies or corporates wanted to prey on South Dakota and their citizens. We are few and we are vulnerable in many ways. It never ends. Now, the pipelines. I was younger then. I had more fight in me. I am older now. How many “older” citizens are there now, in South Dakota? and, I bet they all remember the turbulent 80’s to save the terrain, the farm country, the ranch country, the Black Hills, etc.

  22. mike from iowa

    Interesting history lesson, Mr Pay, and thanks. Sounds like a really fascinating gentleman.

  23. Napier was just at my door in Brookings 10:25 a.m. on Sunday. I was just ready to leave town.

  24. Jake Cummings

    Thanks for the warning, Cory. Hopefully these tools don’t bother my parents, as I list their address as my permanent address for voter registration purposes and therefore listed it on the completed petitions for consistency.

    I’m happy to indulge their misguided scheme, if only to prevent them from hassling other circulators for a bit. They can contact me at cummingsj@jacks.sdstate.edu to coordinate our chat. That way they won’t need to worry about the security code at my apartment. Unlike these prevaricators, I have nothing to hide.

  25. Darin Larson

    I would not talk to them! It just gives them the opportunity to twist what you say into something they can use before a judge. These people have no code of ethics. I would not put anything past them. If you don’t talk to them, they have no evidence for their coming lawsuit!

  26. Jake Cummings

    Darin, that’s certainly one perspective. However, like I said, I don’t want them bothering my parents. Plus, this evidence likely isn’t admissible, given their vested interest in any upcoming court proceedings. I would argue they are doing this to try to discredit IM 21 proponents and attempt to win favor in the court of public opinion. Essentially, they’re hoping to be able to say “Look, they won’t answer our questions, so they must have something to hide.”

  27. Darin Larson

    Jake, not answering their questions is your right until they take your deposition or have you on a witness stand. For them to take your deposition or get you on a witness stand, they are going to have to make an initial showing to the court. “look, they won’t answer our questions, so they must have something to hide” is not evidence. If you or another circulator talks to them voluntarily, you may provide them with the evidence they need to get you or others on a witness stand or in a deposition. Anything you say could possibly be admissible. Tell them to stop bothering your parents or you will call the cops. It is that simple.

  28. Jake Cummings

    Darin, I believe it would be hypocritical for me to expect individuals, such as government officials, to exhibit transparency and honesty if I choose not to do so. I chose to help with this and other petition drives because I believe in these causes and wanted to help what I view as principled people spearheading the efforts.

    I have no issue answering these questions because I abided by petition circulating regulations.

  29. Darin Larson

    Jake, I respect your position. I just don’t want you to be taken advantage of so to speak. No one of substance is questioning your honesty. Your opponents, however, will stoop to the lowest level and try to use your honesty and forthrightness to their advantage.

  30. Darin, Jake, I won’t presume to say whether silence or transparency is superior as a response to the payday lenders’ minions. I can see a middle ground that bridges both Jake’s principles of transparency and honesty and Darin’s caution. We can say, very simply, in response to any question Napier or others ask, “We witnessed every signature.” That one response answers everything relevant to their investigation.

    Even that response is a favor, not an obligation. They want to get us in trouble. They want us to end up in court, testifying to violations that could get our petition thrown out. We committed no violations, but, as Darin says, they will do anything to make it appear that we did. If they can’t get the facts from us (and ultimately, that eyewitness testimony is essential to any court challenge they raise), they will try to impugn our characters and make our lives difficult, as punishment for challenging them now and as intimidation against future petitioners who might threaten the poverty industry with grassroots regulation. Anything we say can and will be used against us in a court of law and maybe in deceptive campaign advertisements.

    Ah! I think I’m working my way toward Darin’s position!

    Therein lies the reason that I could say that Jake is not bound by his principles of transparency and honesty in this situation. We speak of transparency and honesty as the proper response of government officials to citizens who approach them seeking good-faith answers about their government’s actions. We take the same position as individuals with neighbors approaching us in good faith.

    When bad guys approach us seeking information not for enlightenment but to do us and our neighbors harm, our obligation is to protect ourselves and our neighbors, not hand the ill-wishers any tools they need to do harm.

    Consider the extreme Jews-in-the-attic, Nazis-at-the-door question. If you’re committed to truth and transparency, Kant be darned, you still don’t tell the Gestapo you have Jews in your attic. You say, “Jews? Here? I don’t know nothin’ about berthin’ Jews!”

    Rod Aycox and Mike Napier aren’t the Gestapo. They can’t haul us to the camps if we just silently shut the door in their faces. We don’t have to lie… but we also don’t have to answer their questions. We’ve already answered their questions with our signatures on our petitions. “Asked and answered.”

    Now arguably, refusing to speak to Napier or any other payday minions could cause them to press harder to subpoena us for a court case. But if I’m the payday lenders with practically infinite sums to spend on these tactics, I don’t really care about the circulators’ principles or what they actually say to my door-to-door investigators. These doorstep interrogations are about intimidation and evidence-gathering. As Rod Aycox, I next spend my money to drag everyone of those circulators to court in Pierre to appear in person and repeat whatever they said at their doorsteps. Even if everyone says under oath, “I followed the rules and witnessed every signature,” as Rod Aycox, I still enjoy using that subpoena and the whole day you have to spend coming to Pierre and driving back to say one sentence on the stand as punishment for challenging my empire.

    We are honest South Dakotans fighting rich, vindictive, amoral liars. Whatever tactics we choose to resist them with, resist we must, morally and pragmatically.

  31. Jake Cummings

    Darin and Cory, I would not expect any other petition circulator to be bound by my possibly misguided ethics. I believe that if I chose not to answer anyone’s questions about the nature of my petitioning, I would violate my own principles, and I would be bowing to the payday lending industry’s intimidation; neither of those decisions align with my values, and I believe if I don’t live by my values, I am merely living by what is expedient. That is not a reflection on how I think other circulators should respond; I just do not think I can effectively counter an industry rooted in deception, confusion, and lack of transparency by figuratively “hiding” in my apartment.

    Cory, the Kantian implications of interactions with the Gestapo is thought-provoking. Might one be willing to assert that the person hiding Jews could adopt a perspective that the “universal law” that might negate transparency would be the sanctity of human life, particularly among those who are oppressed? In essence, their calculus would be “If I am completely open about the presence of Jews here, it will result in the Jews’ imprisonment and likely death, so in this case, I will refrain from openness to hopefully ensure the Jews remain alive.” Paradoxically, this rationale could also put the person hiding the Jews (and his or her family’s) life/lives at risk. Side note: and some say philosophy is not relevant to today’s students.

  32. Darin Larson

    Jake, consider also that your openness may be the foot in the door that the payday loan sharks need to get the rest of the circulators and you under oath. They are playing by different rules and you must take that into account. I would suggest the end justifies the means for you to keep quiet just as in Cory’s example. If you did nothing wrong, that should be sufficient for your conscience and ethics.

    I don’t know this for a fact, but an educated guess would be that the loan sharks won’t be allowed to go on a fishing expedition in court unless they can make a colorable claim that a circulator did something wrong. This means that they have to have real evidence. Not just assertions of wrongdoing.

  33. Banksters on the Prairie! And we allow it.

  34. David Bergan

    Hi Jake,

    No need to speculate, Kant addressed this exact hypothetical. However, his conclusion was to speak the truth to the murderer. Here is his moral calculus:

    “For instance, if you have by a lie hindered a man who is even now planning a murder, you are legally responsible for all the consequences. But if you have strictly adhered to the truth, public justice can find no fault with you, be the unforeseen consequence what it may. It is possible that whilst you have honestly answered Yes to the murderer’s question, whether his intended victim is in the house, the latter may have gone out unobserved, and so not have come in the way of the murderer, and the deed therefore have not been done; whereas, if you lied and said he was not in the house, and he had really gone out (though unknown to you) so that the murderer met him as he went, and executed his purpose on him, then you might with justice be accused as the cause of his death. For, if you had spoken the truth as well as you knew it, perhaps the murderer while seeking for his enemy in the house might have been caught by neighbours coming up and the deed been prevented. Whoever then tells a lie, however good his intentions may be, must answer for the consequences of it, even before the civil tribunal, and must pay the penalty for them, however unforeseen they may have been; because truthfulness is a duty that must be regarded as the basis of all duties founded on contract, the laws of which would be rendered uncertain and useless if even the least exception to them were admitted. To be truthful (honest) in all declarations is therefore a sacred unconditional command of reason, and not to be limited by any expediency.”

    On the Supposed Right to Lie From Benevolent Motives

    Kind regards,
    David

  35. Jake Cummings

    Darin, I do not want to make any other circulator’s life more difficult, so if/when I am contacted by one of the payday loan inquisitors, I will record it, state clearly that my responses only reflect my actions, and attest that I witnessed every signature, which I did. I cannot provide evidence to be used against IM 21 because I did nothing wrong.

    David, I believe Kant’s response you cited was intended to examine the implications of such a decision on concepts such as justice and virtue for individuals with respect to institutions such a courts. In addition, if one examines Kant’s conceptualizations of universality and humanity, one may argue that the quote you referenced has been mischaracterized. Namely, let’s assume that one argues that Kant’s CI renders lying, even to murderers or illegitimate rulers such as Nazis, indefensible; couldn’t one counter that such an interpretation violates Kant’s maxim to always treat interactions with others as an end, rather than a means to an end, in themselves? Essentially, if I reveal the prospective murder victim’s (or Jews from the prior example) presence, I am prioritizing the CI and rendering the victim a means to an end to satisfy that maxim (the CI) while devaluing his/her humanity, and continued existence, in the process.

    This journal article provides a more eloquent examination of Kant’s stance and alternative interpretations: http://www.academia.edu/2006209/Kant_and_Lying_to_the_Murderer_at_the_Door…_One_More_Time_Kants_Legal_Philosophy_and_Lies_to_Murderers_and_Nazis

  36. Darin, I’m curious, too, about the criteria for allowing a plaintiff to subpoena witnesses. I would think that my “asked and answered” point could come into play: we circulators have all already made sworn statements about our circulating; a judge could say there’s no need to drag us circulators in to repeat ourselves when we’ve already sworn under oath our answer to the question.

    But I’m not a lawyer. Who has the answer? What cause must the payday lenders show to subpoena petition circulators to answer questions about their circulator’s oaths?

  37. Darin Larson

    Cory, I have not done any legal research, so don’t rely on my opinion. I’m just spit-balling here. That said, you have to have a good faith basis to file most lawsuits. In order to have a good faith basis for the suit, you have to have evidence of wrongdoing or error or what might be termed a colorable claim.

    They could attack the secretary of state’s methodology in approving the petition, but that doesn’t seem likely to get them anywhere in the long run. They could get witness statements from signers of the petition, but that doesn’t seem likely to help their cause very much. Attacking one signature at a time would be unlikely to get anywhere. Attacking the methods of the circulators could potentially disqualify bigger numbers of signatures which is what they need to challenge the petition successfully.

    Given the willingness of the payday loan sharks to do whatever it takes to protect their business, I would expect that they will file a lawsuit. I would guess they will have to attack either the SOS or the circulators. Generally, they will have to have some evidence of wrongdoing in order to drag all the circulators in for depositions.

    Back to Jake’s situation: If Jake remains silent to the questions of the payday’s private eye, he will be judged on his oath alone. There is no duty to speak up and correct any error if none has been committed.

  38. Robert Kemp

    Hello David Bergan and Donald Pay
    As a follow-up to your statement on Mr Meinhardt and the Nuclear Waste Vote Coalition
    My wife, Linda Dangelo worked with Nick, and she was on the committee along with Maxine McKeown of Rural Brookings
    I wrote the strategy for which counties and which organizations to target for getting out the vote. Our strategy was to break even in Pennington, and take Minnehaha by 60%, and to really do well in Yankton and Vermillion area, as this would give us a narrow majority given opposition in West River and support on the reservations (if the voters turned up). I consulted with an ag extension/political scientist at State (He had all the stats on previous votes} and there was earlier iniative on Black Hills mining to lean on.
    Nick came by our farm after they won just to say that they followed my strategy and that I was the only one who did any empirical analysis of the issue and to say thanks.
    I remember his statement and it has given me a psychic reward.