The Center's best big business investigations from 2016

The Center for Public Integrity spent 2016 like we've spent every year since 1989: revealing abuses of power, corruption and betrayal of public trust by powerful public and private institutions.

Here are some of our best investigations involving powerful corperations and shady business practices from the past year.

Special interests outnumber state lawmakers 6-to-1

With the federal government in a seemingly undending state of gridlock, more and more companies are turning their attention — and influence — to state governments.

The number of registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C., is on the decline but for every state lawmaker active between 2010 and 2014 there were an average of six companies, trade associations, unions or other groups vying for their attention.

This influence yields results for everything from pharmacutical companies and big tobacco to newcomers like Uber.

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Auto-title lenders are people, too

The Center for Public Integrity requested the annual reports from some of the country's largest auto-title lenders (which offer high-interest loans similar to payday loans) as part of our investigating auto-title lenders back in 2015. Similar documents are public records in other states, but TitleMax, Loan Max and and Fast Auto Loans fought back the Center's request in Virginia.

The companies argued before the Virginia State Corporation Commission that their annual reports were subject to the same privacy rights as an individual's personal financial information. The commission agreed.

Virginians, and costumers in other states where high interest lending is still legal, turn to auto-title lenders for fast cash put their car up for collateral and are saddled with interests rates up to 300 percent on terms that can be misleading or, critics say, downright abusive.

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Rich people have access to high-speed internet; many poor people still don't

Anyone willing to pay for it can get access to fast internet, right? Not exactly.

Low income neighborhoods — those with median household incomes below $34,800 — are five times more likely not to have access to broadband internet than neighborhoods with a median income above $80,700.

In an increasingly connected economy, internet inequality is more than an inconvenience. For many households in the U.S. tools like online jobs, health care and education sites and banking services are out of reach.

“It would be like when you are in a hole, it would be that nice rope ladder being lowered down to you so you can get yourself out,” Curtis Brown Jr. told the Center for Public Integrity. “That’s exactly what it would feel like for us.”

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Beware foreclosure "rescue" plans

Since 2010, more than 46,000 struggling homeowners have filed written complaints against law firms that promised foreclosure relief but instead bilked their clients out of over $100 million.

The scam grew out of a well-meaning government program called “loan modification.” Some purported law firms were little more than telemarketing companies using rubber-stamp approval from lawyers to put a new spin on an old scam targeting minorities and struggling borrowers.

“They take $3,000 from someone who only has that much, not from a population with a lot of wealth,” Michael Tanglis, of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told the Center back in July.

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photo The Center's best big business investigations from 2016 images

photo of The Center's best big business investigations from 2016

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