Running low on cash? Need a short-term loan? You can get a “payday” loan. But watch out.

Usury is the illegal practice of lending money at unreasonably high rates of interest. It has been condemned for centuries and has been outlawed since Montana became a state. Prior to 2010, however, there was an exception for payday loans, and consequently Montana was over-run with payday lenders charging 500 percent, 600 percent sometimes even 1,000 percent annual percentage rates (APR) on loans. One of these fine institutions that I prosecuted was an outfit named, aptly, Loan Shark LLC.

In 2010, we Montanans reined in payday lenders and passed a ballot initiative law that capped the amount a payday loan company can charge at 36 percent APR.

After the law was passed, a client of mine, Tiffany, took out a $500 loan from an internet payday lender and couldn’t understand why the loan wasn’t paid off even though she had already repaid over $2,100. Buried in the fine print was the fact that she was being charged 900 percent APR — well in excess of the 36 percent cap. For three years, I fought for Tiffany and more than 400 other Montana victims of egregious payday loans. We successfully forced the company to give the money back to people who had paid them, forgive the debts for people who were still on the hook and kicked the company out of doing business in Montana.

Angry that Montanans were now “only” allowing them to charge 36 percent APR in Montana, a number of bad acting payday lenders scurried out of the Big Sky State. Where did they go?

To Washington, D.C., of course.

According to, the payday loan industry contributes more than $4 million annually to Members of Congress, industry political action committees and dirty dark money groups. And like everything that’s broken with Washington, D.C., these payday lenders have the best Congress that money can buy.

Last month the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 3299, cynically named the “Protecting Consumers Access to Credit Act.” A better name would be the “Loan Shark Protection Act.” The bill guts the law we as Montanans passed capping payday loans and allows predatory lenders to make loans of 300 percent APR or higher.

And who was right there with the payday loan lobbyists, voting for H.R. 3299 and against Montana? U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, Montana’s sole representative in the U.S. House of Representatives. Since I announced my candidacy against him, Gianforte reneged on his “no corporate PACs” pledge and has now accepted more than $53,000 in corporate PAC donations. And he is showing himself to be a true champion of the corporate special interests who are funding him. Gianforte is on the side of the payday lenders. I, on the other hand, have spent my entire career fighting for people who are abused by these loan sharks.

It is far past the time that we Montanans can tolerate this inside-the-beltway, dirty dark money model that controls our country. This payday loan hoax is just one issue that inspired me to run to replace Gianforte and to work for all the people of Montana, not just the ultra-wealthy and corporate special interests whose money creates a stranglehold on our government and our country.

To me, unlike Gianforte, “drain the swamp” is more than a pithy sound bite. On Nov. 6, Montanans will have the opportunity to really “drain the swamp” by voting out entrenched politicians like Gianforte who choose time and again to do the bidding of corporations and payday lenders instead of us. I hope you will exercise it.

John Heenan is a Democratic candidate for U.S. House.