LINCOLN — A petition drive to cap payday loan rates at 36% annual interest has gotten a big boost from a group active in liberal political causes.

A campaign finance report from Nebraskans for Responsible Lending shows that the Sixteen Thirty Fund, based in Washington, D.C., has put nearly $500,000 into the initiative effort.

The fund, which does not report its donors, has provided money to a number of organizations across the country, including others working on payday lending issues.

It provided major funding to a Colorado petition drive that put a payday lending measure on the 2018 ballot and it supported a 2016 South Dakota petition drive. Voters passed both measures by wide margins.

Aubrey Mancuso, an organizer for the Nebraska petition drive, said the two groups connected in recent weeks as the Nebraska group was searching for funding and word of the petition effort reached the Sixteen Thirty Fund.

“They are mission-driven and interested in consumer protection,” she said.

Amy Kurtz, executive director of the Sixteen Thirty Fund, said the group supports advocates and charitable organizations “working to confront the biggest social challenges in our country, including economic equity.”

“The Sixteen Thirty Fund is proud to provide support to the Nebraskans for Responsible Lending campaign to help end harmful predatory lending practices targeting working people in Nebraska,” she said.

Nebraskans for Responsible Lending is trying to put a proposed state law before voters in the November 2020 general election. To achieve that goal, the group will have to collect valid petition signatures from 7% of registered voters, or close to 85,000 Nebraskans, by July 3.

The influx of money has allowed paid circulators to start hitting the streets in search of signatures.

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State law now allows payday lenders to charge fees that amount to more than 400% annual interest on loans. Industry representatives say the proposed caps could kill their businesses and harm people who cannot get credit elsewhere.

But 16 states plus the District of Columbia have already enacted 36% interest caps on payday lending. Congress passed a 36% cap for active-duty military personnel after the Defense Department reported that payday lending was negatively affecting military readiness and the morale of troops.

Nebraskans for Responsible Lending coalition members include AARP Nebraska, the ACLU of Nebraska, Community Action of Nebraska, Habitat for Humanity of Omaha, Heartland Workers Center, the National Association of Social Workers-Nebraska Chapter, Nebraska Appleseed, Nebraska Children’s Home Society, Omaha Together One Community, Voices for Children in Nebraska, the Women’s Fund of Omaha, Youth Emergency Services and YWCA Lincoln.

Voices for Children and Nebraska Appleseed also made in-kind contributions to the petition drive.

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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-473-9583.

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