The Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) is a nationally active policy organization that advocates for limits on non-traditional financial products it believes to be abusive financial practices. It is one of several organizations, including the Self-Help Credit Union, affiliated with the Center for Community Self-Help. CRL has offices in the District of Columbia, North Carolina, and California.
CRL’s activities focus on three broad areas – research, state advocacy, and coalition-building. While its work is “intended to guide policymakers and opinion leaders,” observers have periodically questioned the reliability of CRL’s claims. In 2015, a Washington Post article that fact-checked CRL research regarding auto loan costs identified “a lack of transparency” on CRL’s part about the basis for its calculations. In 2012, academic David Stoez published a paper looking at how, in its criticisms of payday lenders, “CRL misrepresents data in order to further its reform agenda.”
CRL has controversially received funding from the Sandler Foundation of Herb and Marion Sandler. Herb Sandler is a banker who has been criticized for mortgage lending practices in advance of the 2008 financial crisis.
Foundation support for CRL includes backers such as: Friedman Family Foundation, Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado, Norflet Progress Fund, Oak Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Prudential Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Triangle Community Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.
The Sandler Foundation, founded by Herb and Marion Sandler, has been a consistent supporter of CRL. Following reporting by the New York Times in 2008 on the relationship between the Sandlers and CRL, which portrayed Herb Sandler as inspiring CRL’s leadership to make a CRL a nationally active organization, CRL made a public statement to clarify certain details. A CRL spokesperson told the Credit Union Times Magazine that “Certainly he [Sandler] stepped forward to provide the funds that founded the center, but the vision and work of the center already existed.… So while he gave the seed money to start the organization, that money went to fund an effort already underway.”
After the financial crash of 2008, the New York Times published an article about Herb and Marion Sandler and the mortgage lender they founded, World Savings Bank, which later merged with Wachovia. The Sandlers disputed aspects of the New York Times article, and in 2009, sent a letter to the Times that quoted in part an email from CRL’s Martin Eakes which defended the Sandlers.
Associations with ACORN
CRL’s website contains several research reports and news releases that connect it with the defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). A 2004 CRL report entitled “Wells Fargo’s Subprime Lending” condemned various practices at the bank and identified ACORN as a source of information about Wells Fargo’s alleged abusive practices.
In December 2003, March 2006, and May 2007, quotations from ACORN president Maude Hurd appeared alongside comments from CRL representatives and other activists in various joint statements and messages that concerned aspects of mortgage finance.
Like CRL, ACORN also received funding from the Sandler Foundation.