Exclusive: SunTrust Cuts Business Ties With Benham Brothers After Conservative Views Attacked
First they lost their television show. Now the Benham brothers say they are losing their business.
SunTrust Banks is cutting ties with would-be reality stars David and Jason Benham after liberal activists attacked them for their conservative views on abortion and gay marriage, The Daily Caller has learned. (UPDATE: SunTrust Reverses Decision on Benham Brothers)
In a statement provided first to TheDC on Friday, the Benham brothers confirmed that SunTrust Banks has pulled all of its listed properties with the Benham brothers’ bank-owned property business, which includes several franchisees across four states.
The move comes just a week after HGTV announced it was canceling a planned home renovation show hosted by the brothers.
“If our faith costs us our HGTV show and our business, then so be it,” said Jason Benham on Friday.
“We were caught off-guard with this one,” David Benham said of SunTrust’s actions. “Keeping us off television wasn’t enough, now this agenda to silence wants us out of the marketplace.”
The Benhams, in their statement, said the news came “without warning or explanation from SunTrust and took place over a 15 minute period” on Thursday. The Brothers said they have had a “mutually productive working relationship with SunTrust for many years” and hold a “preferred broker” status with the bank.
The brothers said they contacted SunTrust, but bank employees declined to explain the reasoning for what happened.
Reached for comment by TheDC on Friday, SunTrust corporate spokesman Mike McCoy would not say whether the Benhams’ political views impacted their decision.
“We continuously review our supplier relationships and changes to the list of companies we rely on for services is a natural part of our business, however we do not publicly comment on specific vender relationships,” McCoy told TheDC.
In their statement, the Benhams said they “recognize SunTrust’s right to hire or fire any real estate broker they choose but do not support the decision” to fire independent franchisees that are associated with them. Many of these franchisees, they said, “do not hold the same beliefs” they do.
“As Americans we find ourselves at a crossroads and are forced with a decision to either stand up or sit down,” David Benham said. “Evidently, SunTrust’s longstanding commitment to diversity must not include our historic Christian values.”
One such franchisee is Joel Morimanno of Benham Real Estate of SW Florida.
“I believe SunTrust has requested a blanket reassignment of all Benham Brother listings across the nation because of their Christian beliefs,” Morimanno said in a statement to TheDC.
“The success of my business is based on my performance,” he said. “I work hard to maintain a Preferred Status with all my clients. It appears that SunTrust simply reassigned the listing based on other external factors.”
In an email obtained by TheDC, Morimanno was told by SunTrust’s third-party asset management company: “Unfortunately the seller (SunTrust) is asking for this property to be re-assigned. This was the direct clients (SunTrust) request. I really appreciate all your efforts on this property…This one is out of our control. It is really nothing you did.”
“It is highly unusual for a big asset manager to reassign assets without cause. I even offered to waive my commissions on the sale of the property but they refused and said they were required to reassign the property,” Morimanno explained.
Benham REO Group, the brothers’ main company, “offers streamlined and scaled property management solutions to bank clients for the purposes of liquidating large volumes of foreclosed properties in the Carolinas,” according to its website.
“Having served more than 200 Bank clients and managed/sold over 6,500 foreclosed properties since its inception, the Benham Real Estate Group also provides home buyers/sellers/investors with a highly trained sales team that specializes in working with people interested in purchasing REO property,” the website said.
The Benhams were set to host a new home-renovation show on the Home and Garden Television network called “Flip It Forward.”
But all that changed after an obscure website called Right Wing Watch drew negative attention to the Benham’s conservative views with the headline, “HGTV Picks Anti-Gay, Anti-Choice Extremist For New Reality TV Show.”
The story shed light on how the hosts’ father, Flip Benham, is an outspoken evangelical minister who leads an anti-abortion group. It also revealed that David Benhan led a prayer rally in Charlotte during the Democratic National Convention and has spoken out against gay marriage.
As TheDC reported earlier this week, the hit on the Benham brothers started with the anti-Christian conservative movement in Hollywood. Right Wing Watch, the website that first attacked the brothers, is a project of the liberal advocacy group People for the American Way, which started with an assist from the left-wing Tides Foundation.
People for the American Way was founded with help from former television Norman Lear, a Hollywood executive producer credited with starting the anti-Christian-right movement in the 1980s.
This is how HGTV described the proposed Benham Brothers show last month, which was not expected to be about politics: “Flip It Forward will feature real estate entrepreneurs and dads, David Benham and Jason Benham, as they leverage their good-natured sibling rivalry to help families find a fixer-upper and transform it into the dream home they never thought they could afford.”
There has been a conservative backlash to the HGTV decision. A group, Faith Driven Consumer, has now launched an effort in support of the Benham brothers called FlipThisDecision.com. Nearly 18,000 people have a signed a petition asking the television network to reverse its decision.
Chris Stone, the founder of Faith Driven Consumer, called SunTrust “discriminatory, intolerant, and in direct opposition everything that America is about.” He said the organization will actively seek new banks “who will welcome” the Benham brothers “along with all of the other people that they serve.”
“SunTrust’s actions have effectively put into place a belief-oriented litmus test for its business partners seeking to compete in the marketplace of goods, services, and ideas,” Stone said.
“SunTrust Banks appears to have punished David and Jason Benham by taking action against their business purely based on their Christian beliefs,” he added. “This sends a loud and clear message to people of faith in America, you’re not welcome at SunTrust, take your business somewhere else.”