Comptroller Plan to Impose ‘Fairness Doctrine’ for Banks Goes Against Freedom of Association

CEI Senior Fellow John Berlau criticized a proposal by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) to impose a “fairness doctrine” for banks:

“The OCC’s proposal issued today to ban banks from discriminating based on political viewpoints – a ‘fairness doctrine’ for banks — is a horrific rule that would have disastrous consequences and go against the core tenet of freedom of association in the First Amendment of the Constitution. 

“Conservatives tempted to support this rule because of high-profile instances of financial services denied to customers in so-called ‘unwoke’ industries and causes should realize the rule could work against their interests, particularly under the enforcement powers of a different presidential administration. A bank with pro-life owners, for instance, could be forced to make loans to an abortion clinic. A financial institution with owners who strongly believe in capitalism could be forced to lend to a socialist web site.

“The rule would also be disastrous for the economy at large and result in a flood of litigation. Even if a bank denied financial services to a customer for safety and soundness reasons, it would face the burden of proving that political views played no role. This is a mandate that American banks struggling with the pandemic don’t need on top of the red tape from laws like Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley they are already forced to deal with.

“While policy action might be warranted to clarify contractual rights among existing bank relationships with customers and prevent abrupt termination of loans and accounts, banks and other businesses should not be forced to enter new business relationships with those whom they vehemently disagree. A competitive banking system, cleared of red tape, should ensure people of many viewpoints get the financial services they desire without coercion of financial services providers.

“The OCC should withdraw this rule and expand its otherwise good record of clearing away red tape.”