Establishment Press Ignores House Vote to Defund Operation Choke Point

A month ago, I noted that the establishment press has ignored an especially pernicious program undertaken by Eric Holder's Department of Justice and the Obama administration's regulatory apparatus, namely Operation Choke Point.

On Thursday, a strong 321-87 bipartisan majority of the House passed H.R. 4660, the "Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (of) 2015." Among its provisions: "Sec. 554. None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to carry out Operation Choke Point." The final bill's supporters included 204 Republicans and 117 Democrats. The establishment press has ignored the vote. Excerpts from Kelly Riddell's Friday coverage at the Washington Times follows the jump (bolds are mine throughout this post):

House votes to defund Justice Dept. program that targeted legitimate gun dealers

EricHolderWide

The House of Representatives passed an amendment Thursday to stop all federal funding to be used for the Department of Justice’s Operation Choke Point, an anti-fraud operation that was found to be cutting off legitimate businesses from their banking lines.

“This is a major victory for consumers, law-abiding businesses, and anyone who believes in due process and restraint of government encroachment,” said the Community Financial Services Association of America, a trade group opposed to the operation, in a statement Friday. “Additionally, our banking system benefits as it will not be put in the position to police customers or make judgments about the political popularity of businesses and industries.”

The amendment was brought to the floor by Rep. Blane Luetkemeyer, a Republican from Missouri, who is a member of the House Financial Services Committee and is vice chairman of the House Small Business Committee. The amendment was sponsored by three democrats and two more republicans.

... A House panel Thursday said the Obama Administration has been using Operation Choke Point to target and “choke out” businesses it finds objectionable, from gun dealers and payday lenders to drug paraphernalia sellers and porn merchants.

The Times has a list of targeted businesses similar to the one I obtained elsewhere at my May 2 post:

WashTimesChokePointBizzes2014

The lede at the Times refers to gun dealers because in the past week, suspicions that they are the primary, well, targets of DOJ and bank regulators has mounted. Emily Miller at Fox News had more on that Monday (link is in original):

DOJ accused of targeting gun industry with 'Choke Point' program

The Obama administration, after failing to get gun control passed on Capitol Hill, has resorted to using its executive power to try to put some in the firearms industry out of business, House Republican investigators say.

The assertion is included in a report recently released by California GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Citing internal Justice Department documents, the committee concluded that the administration used a program known as Operation Choke Point to target legal companies that it finds “objectionable.”

The program was started in 2013 to protect consumers by “choking” alleged fraudsters’ access to the banking system. The Justice Department essentially forces banks and third-party payment processors to stop accepting payments from companies that are considered “high risk” and are supposedly violating federal law.

However, the documents released by Issa’s committee show the federal government lumped the firearms industry in with other "high-risk" businesses including those dealing with pornography, drug paraphernalia, escort services, racist materials, Ponzi schemes and online gambling.

The committee also reported that Attorney General Eric Holder was informed the program has been shutting down legal businesses.

... “There is an orchestrated effort by [the Justice Department] and [the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation] to do away with entire industries instead of going after the bad actors. This is wrong,” said (Missouri Congressman Blaine) Luetkemeyer, a former bank regulator, who currently serves on the House Financial Services Committee.

... Justice Department spokesman Emily Pierce said Friday that all the assertions by the House committee are “false.” She said in an email that the documents Issa released actually “make clear that we are targeting fraudulent and illegal behavior.”

Sorry, Emily Pierce. There are too many stories of long-standing legitimate businesses being fired by their bankers simply because they're in a high-risk industry for your statement to stand up. Oh, you can say that you're not specifically targeting them. Meanwhile, DOJ and financial regulators are telling financial services firms that they'll be subject to more intrusive scrutiny if they continue to have customers who are merely in "risky" industries, even if there is no specific evidence of illegality. So many of them are taking the path of least resistance to avoid having auditors and regulators take up permanent residence in their offices.

A search done shortly after midnight Eastern Time on ["choke point" vote] at Google News (typed exactly as indicated between brackets; sorted by date) returned only nine results dated after the House vote; none are from establishment press outlets.

Though two establishment press organs, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, have at least covered Operation Choke Point, it's not clear how much of their coverage, which has primarily been at their related subject matter blogs, has made it into print. From what I can tell, the two papers have not noted the House's Thursday vote.

To the potential press non-coverage excuse that a House vote is meaningless without assurances that Harry Reid's Senate will take up the measure: That certainly didn't stop the press from covering any number of House anti-Iraq War funding votes in 2007 and 2008 when they were destined to be ignored by a Senate which still had the 60-vote cloture rules in place, and when Democrats, for all their bellowing, didn't want to be seen as abandoning troops still on the battlefield.

So DOJ and regulators are engaged in an operation whose mission is to directly and indirectly harass and intimidate the financial industry into abandoning certain types of customers with whom they had entered business relationships in what was formerlya mostly free market. There's a word for this, which means "arbitrary or unrestrained exercise of power; despotic abuse of authority." It's news. It's not arguable. Not covering it is negligent, and arguably encourages its continuation. Or is that what the gatekeepers in the establishment press really want?

If a Republican or conservative presidential administration even thought about doing this ... oh, you know the rest.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.