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When the Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate debated June 22, 2010, in West Palm Beach, Jeff Greene didn’t go more than 60 seconds into his opening statement before launching his first attack on Rep. Kendrick Meek.
"My opponent here has accepted money from Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, hosted subprime mortgage seminars and failed to regulate the banks, causing the worst housing crisis in our nation’s history and causing Florida to be at the forefront of these foreclosures."
Is Greene right about Meek getting money from these two government lenders and putting on seminars on how to get a subprime mortgage? Well, yes and no.
Public records show Meek accepted campaign contributions in 2006 and 2008 from the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation Political Action Committee, aka Freddie Mac PAC, and Federal National Mortgage Association Political Action Committee, aka Fannie Mae PAC (see here www.opensecrets.org). The Fannie Mae PAC, for example, contributed $2,000 to Meek’s campaign in 2006. The Freddie Mac PAC donated $1,000 in 2006 and 2008.
In fact, the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac PACs donated to many other candidates in those election years -- Republican and Democrat alike. Altogether, the Fannie Mae PAC shelled out more than $1.45 million in those two election cycles, and Freddie Mac handed out $542,000 more, according to OpenSecrets.org, a website affiliated with Center for Responsive Politics, a research group that tracks money in U.S. politics and elections.
So what about the seminars? As the U.S. housing market peaked in mid-2006 and later collapsed -- the Miami-Dade Clerk of Courts registered 64,001 foreclosure filings in 2009, compared to 9,814 in 2006 -- Meek organized a handful of public forums that aimed to secure houses for first-time homeowners (see foreclosure statistics here www.miami-dadeclerk.com/property_mortgage_foreclosures.asp). According to a flier for one March 2007 conference, the event focused on how to steer aspiring buyers to homeownership. Other topics looked at how to repair credit, identify the right mortgage, and budget expenses.
Eager to learn more about homeownership opportunities from representatives with different banks and mortgage companies, "hundreds" poured into Florida Memorial University’s Athletic Center in Miami Gardens on March 17, 2007, according to the Miami Times, a family-owned weekly newspaper that serves Miami-Dade’s African-American community. Dubbed the "Ten Weeks to Homeownership Conference," the Meek event brought not only the Miami congressman but other elected officials, including Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Jordan and then-Miami Gardens Vice Mayor Oscar Braynon II, a onetime Meek intern. Also lending their names to the event were the Rotary Club of Opa-locka and the Dade County Alumnae Chapter, Delta Sigma Sorority.
The March 2007 event, typical of similar homeowner forums Meek has organized, was held in conjunction with W.O.W. (With Ownership Wealth), a group the Congressional Black Caucus formed in 2001 with the aim of increasing homeownership rates among minorities. On a website for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are listed among the group’s "national sponsors."
Calling the sessions "subprime mortgage seminars" is a stretch, we think. The subprime market targeted prospective home owners who had poor credit ratings or limited credit histories. But the forums also covered the areas of credit counseling and financial literacy. Furthermore, these forums are a mainstay in Meek’s district, which is northern Miami-Dade and southern Broward. Well before the subprime market existed, Meek held fairs on homeownership and credit repair. So did his mother, Carrie Meek, during the decade she served in Congress.
"All the information you need to buy a home will be available to you at the fair, such as how to get the best financing, how to find a good house to buy, or if you just don't understand the home-buying process and don't want to get ripped off," Meek was quoted as saying in Miami Times.
So while it’s true that Meek accepted money from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, it’s not fair to call the forums "subprime mortgage seminars." The agenda wasn’t just homeownership. Moreover, these forums have long been the norm in Meek’s district -- regardless of what was happening in the housing market. So we rate Greene’s statement Half True.
Miami Herald, Ask Action Line, "Home Buying Seminar Saturday Free at Fla. Memorial," May 12, 2006. Accessed via LexisNexis database.
Miami Herald, "Homeownership Fair Targets Minorities," Jan. 11, 2004. Accessed via LexisNexis database.
Miami Times, "Hopeful homeowners join Meek for conference at FMU," March 21, 2007 / March 27, 2007. Accessed via LexisNexis database.
Miami Times, "How to buy a home is topic of public fair?," January 20, 2004. Accessed via LexisNexis database.
OpenSecrets.org Center for Responsive Politics, www.opensecrets.org
Miami-Dade Clerk of Courts, Foreclosure Filing Statistics, www.miami-dadeclerk.com/property_mortgage_foreclosures.asp
Adam Sharon, spokesman for Kendrick Meek
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