A Missouri congressman hopes to give the Department of Justice a taste of its own medicine with an amendment to halt an initiative that he says uses “intimidation tactics” and forces banks to sever relationships with legitimate businesses.
Blaine Luetkemeyer wants to choke off funding for “Operation Choke Point.”
“What it does is goes after an entire industry whether it’s obeying the law or not. And that’s just wrong,” Luetkemeyer said of the initiative in an interview with The Daily Caller.
The Republican lawmaker’s amendment was successfully attached to the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill which passed a vote in the House late Thursday.
The amendment comes on the heels of a staff report issued Thursday by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The report claims that “Operation Choke Point has forced banks to terminate relationships with a wide variety of entirely lawful and legitimate merchants.”
This happens because the anti-fraud initiative, which is operated by the Department of Justice which works in conjunction with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, forces banks to more closely monitor their business relationships with companies in industries deemed “high risk.”
Banks can suffer “reputational risk” by failing to spot fraudulent practices.
This has had a chilling effect in forcing banks to be overly cautious in who they do business with, says Luetkemeyer.
“They are operating legally, and yet Operation Choke Point is not there to go after the bad actors, which I support them doing,” he said, adding, “the problem I have with Operation Choke Point is it goes one step further.”
Luetkemeyer said that gun sellers, ammunition sellers, coin dealers, tobacco sellers, career repair service providers and many other businesses have been wrongly ensnared because of the initiative’s overreach.
“They’re using intimidation on the banking folks to force them to discontinue financial services to their long term customers in some cases,” he said.
Luetkemeyer’s proposed amendment reads, simply, “none of the funds made available in the CJS Appropriations bill may be used to carry out Operation Choke Point.”
He said the amendment is the first attempt at fixing the problem which he calls “this nonsense of government overreach.” He told TheDC that he has talked with DOJ about providing a safe harbor for banks to continue doing business with legal and legitimate companies, but the agency hasn’t listened.
“As a result, this has to be stopped.”
“This is picking and choosing winners and losers,” Luetkemeyer told The Daily Caller.
Choke Point has drawn the attention of gun and ammunition dealers.
They raised concerns after numerous reports that banks have been cutting off business relationships because of their line of business.
Gun sellers are listed along with a long list of businesses — including coin dealers and payday lenders — on an FDIC document of industries that are considered “high risk.”
Last week, as first reported by The Washington Times, the owner of Powderhorn Outfitters, a gun seller in Hyannis, Mass., said that his longtime banker, TD Bank, would not extend a line of credit because he sold guns. (RELATED: Gun Seller Deemed ‘High Risk,’ Dumped By Bank)
And earlier this year, a number of adult film stars reported that banks were closing their accounts because of their industry, which is also deemed “high risk” under the initiative.
Thursday’s House Oversight and Reform committee report, titled “The Department of Justice’s ‘Operation Choke Point': Illegally Choking Off Legitimate Businesses?” said “Operation Choke Point is the Justice Department’s newest abuse of power.”
“If the administration believes some businesses should be out of business, they should prosecute them before a judge and jury. By forcibly conscripting banks to do their bidding, the Justice Department has avoided any review and any check on their power,” committee chairman Darrell Issa said in a statement.