WASHINGTON — A new project seeking to expose some of the most secretive special interests in American politics launched on Wednesday. Its first targets: payday lenders, for-profit colleges and voter suppression groups.
The nonprofit Allied Progress is headed by Democratic strategist Karl Frisch, who said it will operate like an opposition research group, revealing and confronting what he called “the powerful interests that seek to silence and take advantage of hardworking American families.”
“Everyone knows what payday lenders do, for example, but very few people know who the payday lenders actually are,” Frisch told The Huffington Post. “People know the University of Phoenix brand [of for-profit colleges], but they don’t know who is really making the money off of student loan debt.”
In the shadowy world of consumer debt, this pattern of secrecy is well-established. Many of the companies behind so-called predatory lending firms, which often charge interest rates well above 500 percent, rely on a complex system of shell corporations to protect their investors and owners from liability, public criticism and regulation.
“We’re going to do the hard work to expose who these people are and their links to some big corporations and individuals who would prefer to stay in the shadows,” said Frisch. “We’re looking at all types of predatory lending, payday loans, car titles, check cashing, bank fees. Nothing is off the table, both nationwide and in the states, if we see that we can make an impact.”
One of the battles that Allied Progress plans to wage this fall focuses on a series of regulations proposed earlier this year by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, aimed at reining in some of the worst practices of payday lending. The proposed rules soon met with stiff resistance, setting the course for an epic battle between federal regulators and the well-financed payday lending industry.
Frisch said Allied Progress will try to even the political playing field. “We’re going to call for all types of action to be taken, whether it’s demanding congressional investigations, publishing the results of our research, buying paid ad time, organizing petitions, you name it,” he said.
After more than a decade working for Democratic candidates and progressive causes, Frisch is well poised to lead a group that’s seeking to put some bite into liberal issue campaigns. He spent five years at Media Matters, the progressive rapid response group, where he is credited with leading the effort to expose conservative bias at Fox News Channel.
Allied Progress, he said, will fill a spot in the progressive political landscape that’s currently vacant.
“There are lots of great groups out there trying to enact positive change, but well-concealed special interests often try to make it as difficult as possible for these groups to do their good work, whether it’s registering people to vote or helping them to avoid debt traps,” he said. “The part of the movement we fill is that we’re focused on holding these powers accountable, exposing what they do, and the roles that they play in preying on the most vulnerable people in society.”
Allied Progress is funded in part by the New Venture Fund, a donor group that pushes for social and environmental change. The new nonprofit also accepts donations online.