The Left has tried to sway businesses’ behavior to comply with their public policy goals through shareholder activism, and used the cudgel of law enforcement and regulation to choke off funding for businesses it disfavors, but now signs are showing from elected conservatives that they’ve had enough.
Much in the way organized progressives have attacked Fox News’ advertisers to deter them from supporting programs they disagree with politically, so also have they pressured banks and other financial institutions to persuade them to stop lending money, or providing everyday money management services, to legal businesses they oppose – think gun dealers, payday lenders, and precious metals merchants.
At the end of March, Republican Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho – who chairs the Senate Banking Committee – notified eight major banks that he expected them to not succumb to the demands of political agitators.
“Banks serve customers who are geographically and politically diverse, and it is wrong to use essential banking services as a way to choke off such services to lawful, creditworthy businesses,” Crapo wrote.
The eight financial institutions he addressed in his letter were the CEOs of Bank of America, Bank of New York Mellon, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, State Street Corporation, and Wells Fargo.
The four-term Senator issued his warning following a Politico report that explained how newly empowered House Democrats are using their advantage on the Financial Services Committee – which includes popular socialist and social media maven Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – to exert their authority on policy.
“The lawmakers are leveraging [their majority] and a huge following on social media to confront finance industry executives and discourage them from funding oil pipelines, firearms makers and private prison companies that operate immigration detention centers,” Politico reported. “Like-minded activist groups are helping amplify the message.”
The story followed a House Financial Services Committee hearing of testimony from Wells Fargo CEO Timothy Sloan (who retired on March 28th), in which Ocasio-Cortez grilled him about backing the Dakota Access pipeline and immigrant holding facilities.
“Hypothetically, if there was a leak from the Dakota Access Pipeline, why shouldn’t WellsFargo pay for the cleanup of it, since it paid for the construction of the pipeline itself?” the New York congresswoman queried Sloan. She also asked him, with no evidence to support her assumption, “Why did Wells Fargo finance this pipeline when it was widely seen to be environmentally unstable?”
And, turning to her anti-Trump immigration policy stance, Ocasio-Cortez asked Sloan, “Why was the bank involved in the caging of children and financing the caging of children to begin with?” referring to last year’s “family separation policy.”
The grandstanding ignorance of the tweet-happy socialist congresswoman could be easily dismissed, except that these pressure tactics are working with some institutions.
In February Chase Bank (owned by JP Morgan Chase, one of Sen. Crapo’s targets) began notifying some conservatives that it was closing their accounts. One was Martina Markota, a conservative news website host who was told by Chase – without explanation – that they would no longer do business with her production company.
The bank also shut down the account of Enrique Tarrio, the black leader of the Proud Boys, as well as those of popular Internet conservatives Joe Biggs and Laura Loomer, who appear to have had their accounts restored after an online outcry.
The online money processing service PayPal also exercises ideological prohibition, banishing Alex Jones/Infowars and the Twitter free-speech alternative site Gab.com, as well as others. Worse, both Chase and PayPal have listened to the odious and discredited Southern Poverty Law Center about what constitutes a “hate group” in deciding who they do business with. SPLC has come under sharp criticism for labeling upstanding conservative Christian organization such as the Family Research Council and Alliance Defending Freedom as “hate groups,” and its two top leaders have resigned in shame over legitimate claims of racism and sexism.
Moreover to Crapo’s point, banking corporations have increasingly excised legal businesses from their portfolios, especially gun manufacturers. Chase CFO Marianne Lake told the media last year that its business with gunmakers had “come down significantly and are pretty limited.” Bank of America and Citigroup also announced restrictions on how much business they will do with the firearms industry.
These pressure tactics even became an official policy under the Obama Justice Department, called Operation Choke Point. The program was created ostensibly to affect so-called “high risk” businesses, but in reality were simply political targets of Obama’s henchmen. Even the bureaucrats at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of the Comptroller of Currency got into the act, going after legal businesses including firearm sellers, ammunition supply companies, gold and silver dealers, pawn shops, money transfer services, payday lenders and fireworks companies.
The Trump administration shut down the program in 2017.
But that doesn’t mean the big banks haven’t loosened the noose they’ve put on legitimate businesses that operate legally in the United States, as the likes of Ocasio-Cortez, House Financial Services chairwoman Maxine Waters, and leftist agitator groups keep up their pressure on them.
Last month Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota introduced the Freedom Financing Act, which would ensure that certain industries are not restricted by major banks with over $10 billion in assets. And Crapo has now issued his warning as Banking Committee chairman. Maybe the resistance to censorship of conservatives is finally getting some teeth.