The U.S. Treasury Department building in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Opinion: Weaponizing banking hurts our economy

For decades, Atlanta has thrived as a hub for domestic and global businesses. The city serves as a home to numerous Fortune 500 companies, including Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, and The Home Depot. The economy for metro Atlanta ranks as the 10th-largest in the country. Both Atlanta and the entire state have enjoyed a boom in film and technology due to strategically deployed tax credits.

But Georgia’s status as one of the very top states in which to do business could be ripped out beneath us if new Hollywood transplants continue their crusade to expand a leftist political agenda here. Recently, they have taken to pressuring banking institutions to sever their ties from lawful businesses that don’t align with their liberal ideals. It is critical that banks in our state, and around the country, stand strong against this fiscal discrimination in order to ensure the continued stability of our successful economy.

Boycott campaigns, similar to the one invoked against HB 481, the pro-life “heartbeat bill,” have been designed by liberal and Hollywood elites to shift legislation and political momentum in their favor. Unsurprisingly, with some initial success and the endorsement of leftist luminaries like U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, activists are becoming increasingly aggressive. Now, instead of taking to the streets, these activists are taking to corporate board rooms and demanding that banks stop financing industries they despise.

This strategy actually is not new.

In 2013, the Obama Administration quietly launched an insidious program – cleverly named “Operation Choke Point” – designed deliberately to starve (or “choke off”) disfavored industries of banking services and other financial resources essential for them to remain in business.

Under the guise of “ending fraud,” the Obama Administration initiated toxic practices that signaled it is ok to discriminate against politically disfavored industries; notably including firearm and ammunition manufacturers and retailers, and short-term lending businesses. And while the Trump Administration put an end to this dishonorable program, the repercussions of Operation Choke Point and the precedent it set remain a very real threat today.

Banking discrimination is alive and well in our country, with activists now adding more industries to their hit list. In addition to the continued fight against gun manufacturers, they now are increasing the pressure to starve off fossil fuel companies and the private corrections industry. Without oil and gas pipelines, families across Georgia will no longer have secure access to affordable energy – and Atlanta’s thousands of commuters will face skyrocketing gas prices. Private corrections facilities are necessary to prevent prison overcrowding and ensure optimal health conditions. The list of consequences is long.

Aggressive groups such as Real Money Moves, driven by Hollywood celebrities like Amy Schumer and Alyssa Milano, are ringleaders in today’s version of yesterday’s Operation Choke Point.

What is of critical importance, is for political and business leaders in our state to understand that this manner of banking discrimination is explicitly forbidden by the federal government.

Even if advocates of weaponizing banking services do not like or respect the president in office, they should at least have the decency to respect the law. As the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency explicitly states that with regard to agencies over which it has jurisdiction, it “will not tolerate lending discrimination in any form.” This policy exists to protect all lawful industries, including those that left-wing activists don’t like, just as those conservatives might find distasteful.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin publicly affirmed that the banking industry has an obligation not to discriminate against specific industries, and he has acknowledged there rightfully has been pushback on banks that have participated in such practices.

It is vital that banks in Georgia stand up against activists who endorse discriminatory behavior in the provision of financial services — if not to protect our flourishing economy, then for the taxpayers and small business owners who work hard to keep our state competitive. Succumbing to biased banking will only lead to the demise of our economic success and diminish the quality of life enjoyed by all citizens of our great city and state.

Bob Barr was a U.S. Representative from Georgia, 1995-2003.

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