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John Edwards: "Predatory lending" beneficiary?

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By Michelle Malkin  •  August 17, 2007 08:41 AM

Welcome to John Edwards’ America, a land where Democrat presidential candidates demonize the businesses that made them rich. Via the WSJ today, a fresh look at silky hypocrisy. Headline: “Edwards, Foreclosure Critic, Has Investing Tie to Subprime Lenders:”

As a presidential candidate, Democrat John Edwards has regularly attacked subprime lenders, particularly those that have filed foreclosure suits against victims of Hurricane Katrina. But as an investor, Mr. Edwards has ties to lenders foreclosing on Katrina victims.

The Wall Street Journal has identified 34 New Orleans homes whose owners have faced foreclosure suits from subprime-lending units of Fortress Investment Group LLC. Mr. Edwards has about $16 million invested in Fortress funds, according to a campaign aide who confirmed a more general Federal Election Commission report. Mr. Edwards worked for Fortress, a publicly held private-equity fund, from late 2005 through 2006.

Asked about the matter, Mr. Edwards yesterday pledged that he would personally provide financial assistance to New Orleanians who are facing foreclosure by Fortress-affiliated businesses or have lost their homes already. “I intend to help these people,” the former North Carolina senator said.

He also promised to cleanse his portfolio of any investments that may be profiting from their losses. “I am going to divest” from any Fortress funds that have a stake in the subprime lenders that filed the foreclosures, he said in a telephone interview. “I will not have my family’s money invested in these firms.”

Such a man of belated principle is he.

Mr. Edwards didn’t give details on how or when he was going to proceed, either to alter his holdings or to aid borrowers. He said he plans to begin making amends to New Orleans homeowners first by contacting them and “seeing where they are in the process.” He said his help may come from his own cash or in collaboration with a charity that specializes in repairing homes. The foreclosures, Mr. Edwards said, “run counter to what I’m about.”

On the campaign trail, Mr. Edwards has particularly attacked lenders behind foreclosures in storm-slammed Louisiana. In April, he visited the devastated Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood to voice one of his main antipoverty planks: a proposal to rein in subprime-mortgage companies whose “shameful lending practices,” he said, threaten millions of working-class homeowners. “While Washington turns a blind eye, irresponsible lenders are pulling a fast one on hard-working homeowners,” Mr. Edwards said a few days later.

At the time in late 2005 when Mr. Edwards went to work for Fortress, it already had a stake in one subprime lender that subsequently foreclosed on some Katrina victims, Green Tree Servicing LLC. While he was there, Fortress acquired a second, Nationstar Mortgage LLC. Fortress paid Mr. Edwards $479,512 in 2006 for part-time work, a Federal Election Commission report in May showed.

After leaving the firm, he kept about half of his net worth in Fortress funds. And Fortress employees have collectively made up the largest class of political contributors to Mr. Edwards. Workers there put up more than $150,000 toward his presidential run in the first six months of the year.

The WaPo asked Edwards about Fortress in May. He says he was clueless. Yeah:

The hedge fund that employed John Edwards markedly expanded its subprime lending business while he worked there, becoming a major player in the high-risk mortgage sector Edwards has pilloried in his presidential campaign.

Edwards said yesterday that he was unaware of the push by the firm, Fortress Investment Group, into subprime lending and that he wishes he had asked more questions before taking the job. The former senator from North Carolina said he had asked Fortress officials whether it was involved in predatory lending practices before taking the job in 2005 and was assured it was not.

And besides, when Edwards is involved with it, it isn’t “predatory lending,” you see. It’s called helping the poor, of course! Spin, spin, spin those Two Americas, Johnny Boy. More from the WSJ:

Edwards aides, while apologetic for the foreclosures, defended subprime lending in general. They pointed out the distinctions between subprime loans, which are extended to people with less-than-stellar credit, and “predatory” loans, which often target the same consumers but employ pressure sales tactics and punitive covenants that can strip equity from home buyers and tie them to onerous payments. Subprime loans, defenders note, can benefit many lower-income people previously locked out of home ownership.

Mortgage experts say there’s no clear line dividing standard subprime loans from “predatory” ones. Generally speaking, said Thomas Lawler, a former official at mortgage buyer Fannie Mae, predatory loans carry high interest rates that are allowed to rise but not drop. They may be loaded with prepaid fees. Lenders may make monthly payments look smaller than they really are by not requiring borrowers to put taxes and insurance in escrow. And the loans generally don’t allow early payoff without a steep penalty. That bars refinancing if interest rates drop.

Maybe someone should organize a “poverty tour” of those 34 homes in New Orleans whose owners have faced foreclosure suits from subprime-lending units of Fortress. They can rename the neighborhood “Edwardsville.”

***

Have a chuckle. Read John Edwards’ campaign page on “fighting predatory mortgages.”

Betsy Newmark weighs in:

I still think that there is something suspect about this nothingburger of a job that Edwards had there at Fortress. He earned close to half a million dollars for a 15-month stint working at Fortress to study the relationship of capital and poverty, but seemed to miss the whole involvement of his employer with subprime lending. If you or I wanted to study poverty and capital, we’d probably have to go to a university and do some research. Giving a job for someone to do some study while on the job just doesn’t rate a six-figure salary for anyone besides a potential presidential candidate. It seems yet another way to get around the campaign finance laws.

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