GOP Sweetheart Bill for the Rent-to-Own Industry

November 15, 2017

Cash register till

A Republican legislative proposal would exempt rent-to-own stores from the state consumer protection laws, and help the controversial industry grow in Wisconsin, according to the bill’s authors.

Under current law, rent-to-own companies are required to disclose to customers their interest rates, which often climb into the triple digits.

The bill would require rent-to-own stores to disclose the cost of an item and the number of payments needed to own it, rather than the interest rate. The stores would also be required to disclose the difference between the price of an item and the total cost of the payments to acquire it.

Industry critics say rent-to-own stores prey on the poor.

But Rep. Warren Petryk, of Eleva, and Sen. Terry Moulton, of Chippewa Falls, said their bill “will incentivize the creation of more rent-to-own stores in Wisconsin” to serve a “distinct consumer population” that may not be able to afford common household items.

Petryk and Moulton also happen to be among the top recipients of the industry’s contributions. Between January 2011 and June 2017, rent-to-own store owners and employees contributed $14,100 to about a dozen legislative and statewide candidates – all Republicans. The top recipients of the industry’s campaign contributions were Republican Gov. Scott Walker and former Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, $4,000 each, and Petryk, $1,750. Moulton’s campaign received $500 from the industry.

The industry’s contributions came from four contributors:

Jeffrey and Cheryl Lebakken, of Eau Claire, owners of Lebakken Rent-to-Own, $10,000;

Rent-A-Center Good Government Political Action Committee, $3,000;

Mark Speese, of Plano, Tex., founder of Rent-A-Center, $1,000;

Derry Thorson, of Merrill, a Lebakken Rent-to-Own employee, $100.

Republicans have been trying for several years to exempt rent-to-own businesses from consumer protection laws. The latest attempt was when Walker proposed similar industry exemptions in his proposed 2013-15 state budget, but GOP legislative leaders removed them.