By John Murante, Newsweek, March 31, 2023
When DirecTV, a subsidiary of AT&T, cut a conservative news channel from its lineup, for its censorship. Now, my colleagues and I are deeply concerned that the same censorious spirit has infected our financial system.
That’s exactly what we’re seeing at JPMorgan Chase. The nation’s largest bank, Chase serves more than 60 million American households, including many people and businesses in Nebraska, where I serve as state treasurer. But far too often, we’ve seen Chase betray the trust of its customers, shareholders, and fellow citizens by debanking clients in service of narrow ideological agendas.
That’s why, together with colleagues in 12 other states, I am to be accountable and transparent, and to treat all customers equally, regardless of their religious or political points of view.
Chase has a disturbing track record of debanking clients for biased or arbitrary reasons. Beyond its well-known vendettas against fossil fuel companies and firearm manufacturers, Chase is also conditioning its services on whether company employees agree with customers’ political or religious activities.
In the past two years, Chase has denied payments or canceled accounts associated with people and organizations—such as former ambassador Sam Brownback, the Arkansas Family Council, Defense of Liberty, and retired general Michael Flynn, Jr—for holding mainstream American views.
In fact, a former Chase executive described the bank’s practice of “red-dotting,” where Chase employees can flag customers for cancelation based on their perceived reputational or social risk.
As we conveyed to Mr. Dimon, practices like “red-dotting” destroy trust between financial institutions and the customers they serve.
The bank’s cancelation of the National Committee for Religious Freedom (NCRF), headed by former ambassador Brownback, is a chilling example of anti-religious bias. Without any warning or rationale, Chase suddenly closed NCRF’s account last year.
After repeated attempts to get the bank to explain its actions, Chase informed NCRF that it would only consider reinstating the account if the nonprofit first agreed to provide detailed information about its top donors and planned political activities.
Asked why it was pushing for these invasive disclosures, Chase changed its explanation multiple times. Chase initially claimed that it asked NCRF for the disclosures due to concerns about money laundering and funding of terrorist groups. When pressed on this outlandish rationale, the bank cited a completely different set of guidelines, claiming that Sam Brownback was a “Politically Exposed Person.” But the relevant guidelines specify that “Politically Exposed Persons” do not “include U.S. public officials.”
Chase’s politically charged decision-making was entirely predictable. The bank received a rating of just 15 percent on the 2022 Viewpoint Diversity Score Business Index, the first comprehensive benchmark designed to measure corporate respect for free speech and religious freedom. Among other red flags, the index identified at least one policy that allows Chase to mask political or religious discrimination against clients behind vague terms like “hate” or “intolerance.”
When powerful banks like Chase retain unbridled discretion to cancel accounts for arbitrary or biased reasons, it undermines the freedom of everyday Americans to participate in society and the marketplace without fear of discrimination based on their political or religious views.
Many states, including Nebraska, are invested in Chase and rely on it for financial services. As stewards of public dollars, we want to make sure Chase is focused on generating value for our pensions and state investments, not engaging in narrow political or social agendas that undermine trust in our financial system.
Chase needs to rebuild trust with its shareholders and clients, but that can’t happen without transparency. When it comes to a host of progressive priorities including climate change and DEI, Chase prides itself on being transparent. The company publicly celebrates its 100 percent score on the far-left Corporate Equality Index, yet it refuses to proactively implement measures to guard against politicized debanking.
That’s why my colleagues and I are demanding that Chase be accountable and transparent with the everyday Americans who rely on its services. Chase can take an important step to restore trust by completing the questionnaire it received in connection with the Viewpoint Diversity Score Business Index, and by implementing recommended best practices to prevent internal political and anti-religious bias.
Freedom of speech doesn’t stop at the teller’s window. It’s time for powerful banks like Chase to show and not merely tell when it comes to respecting the freedom of all Americans to bank without fear of religious or political discrimination.
John Murante is the Nebraska state treasurer.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.