Should Car-Title Lenders Make Their Data Public?

Jun 7, 2017

Democratic State Senator Scott Surovell, left, of Fairfax, seen here with State Senator Dave Marsden (D-Fairfax) at this year's General Assembly, represented the state's Center for Public Integrity before Virginia's Supreme Court.
Credit AP Photo / Steve Helber

How much information should car-title lenders release to the public? That’s an issue that’s currently before the Supreme Court of Virginia, and Michael Pope was there to hear oral arguments.

How many automobiles did TitleMax repossess last year? That’s a data point that the company is legally required to report to state regulators. And it’s a piece of information that the Center for Public Integrity says should be public. But car title lenders want to keep that information secret. State Senator Scott Surovell represented the center before the state Supreme Court. 

“Courts and judges are there to make decisions, and the State Corporation Commission basically refused to construct a statute and then withheld the documents anyway and that to me was totally inappropriate.”

The problem for the Center for Public Integrity is that the Freedom of Information Act does not apply to state regulators. And the law outlining what’s required is ambiguous. Virginia legal expert Rich Kelsey says that creates a problem for Surovell and his client. 

“In the modern era, we’ve become used to courts just resolving any issues with a statute or regulation. But to be honest with you, laws are best made by legislatures, not by courts.”

This week, a newly created working group met for the first time to hammer out ongoing problems with car-title lenders and internet lenders. Figuring out what documents should be public — and which ones shouldn’t — could be one of the issues the group tackles in the next few months.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.