Missouri Republican Calls On Additional Federal Agencies to Investigate Operation Choke Point
U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer orders regulators to investigate the controversial program that results in legitimate businesses losing access to banking services.
11/5/2018 3:30 PM
U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., said he is “astonished by the sheer amount of evidence proving that senior officials in the American government have allowed their personal beliefs to govern their decisions.” The statement, included in a news release dated Oct. 25, is in reference to Operation Choke Point, the controversial Obama-era program in which the FDIC and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reportedly applied pressure to financial institutions to cut off financial services to certain licensed, legally operating industries, including debt collection.
Luetkemeyer extended his recent call for an investigation into Operation Choke Point to regulatory agencies that have denied knowledge or involvement in the program. Among the agencies on his list is the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection.
The congressman originally initiated the call for investigation in early October to Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Chairman Jelena McWilliams and Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting after new details revealed actions restricting banking services under the program, ACA International previously reported.
In an Oct. 25 letter to Randal Quarles, vice chair for supervision, and Jerome Powell, chairman, of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors; Mick Mulvaney, acting director of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection; and Mark McWatters, chairman of the National Credit Union Administration, Luetkemeyer writes, “Much like the (Office of the Comptroller of the Currency), each of your predecessors spent several years denying any knowledge of or involvement in Operation Choke Point. I fear that, given the evidence that has come to light this month, Operation Choke Point and the de-risking seen throughout the banking sector are systemic problems and not isolated to one or two regulatory agencies. This matter requires an immediate and thorough investigation. For that reason, I order you to work internally to determine whether or not any member of your respective staffs had any knowledge of or in any way participated in Operation Choke Point or any similar initiative.”
The first investigative letters released in October by Luetkemeyer reference a case in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia involving access to banking for payday lenders, ACA previously reported.
“For years, the OCC and other regulators denied any knowledge of, or involvement in Operation Choke Point, but we now know the OCC was lying to Congress. Such blatant abuses of power are intolerable, and it is essential for each of these agencies to investigate and reconfirm they had no role in this despicable initiative,” Luetkemeyer said in a news release Oct. 25.
In April 2015, ACA International’s Board of Directors unanimously voted to support legislation and policy changes that would bring an end to Operation Choke Point. ACA members have also reported that banking relationships have continued to be unfairly terminated in certain instances despite the DOJ’s commitment to end the program.
Luetkemeyer, chairman of the Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee, has consistently advocated for the end of Operation Choke Point, including through the Financial Institution Customer Protection Act (H.R. 2706) which passed in the House by a 395-2 vote in December 2017, ACA International previously reported.
Luetkemeyer’s H.R. 2706 legislation requires federal banking agencies to provide banks or credit unions written justification of any request to terminate or restrict a customer’s account, except in instances of national security, ACA previously reported. The legislation also would require each federal banking regulator to report annually on the number of requests to terminate customer accounts that the FDIC, the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), the OCC and the Federal Reserve have made to a bank.
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