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Recent Bank Failures Draw Much-Needed Scrutiny to Widespread Politicized Banking

As the high-profile failures of SVB and others remind us, the public relies on bank executives to act responsibly and even-handedly.
Michael Ross
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As the high-profile failures of SVB and others remind us, the public relies on bank executives to act responsibly and even-handedly.

It’s rarely a good sign when banks are in the news. That’s certainly the case with the headlines generated by the recent high-profile closures of Silicon Valley Bank, Signature Bank, and Silvergate.

Taken together, these closures have raised a bevy of questions, ranging from broad concerns about the overall health of the financial system to more specific queries related to the banks’ investing strategies.

Among these questions is what role, if any, the institutions’ support for and celebration of radical gender and racial ideologies had in their downfall. For most of the year leading up to its demise, for instance, SVB failed to staff its chief risk officer position in the U.S., while the administrator filling a similar position at the bank’s U.K. affiliate spent what seems to be an inordinate amount of company resources promoting LGBT causes and programs.

SVB’s outsize emphasis on promoting contentious issues is also evident in its corporate giving. According to data compiled by the Claremont Institute, from 2019 to its collapse, SVB allocated more than $70 million to racially divisive organizations such as Black Lives Matter and other critical race theory-dependent groups. And that is just a drop in the bucket of the $83 billion total that corporate executives across the country have given to the self-avowed (and remarkably consistent) Marxist organizers of BLM.

The nation’s largest bank, Chase, also committed more than $30 billion to groups such as BLM that heavily promote and rely upon the destructive ideas contained in critical race theory. That’s nearly $12 billion more than its nearest competitor, Bank of America, and only adds to Chase’s growing reputation as a self-appointed kingmaker on hotly debated social and political issues.

This is something that former U.S. senator, U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) knows firsthand. Chase suddenly and inexplicably closed his nonprofit group's bank account last year. Weeks afterward, when Chase finally engaged with his group, the National Committee for Religious Freedom, it said that the group must betray the privacy of its donors for the bank to even consider reopening the account.

Chase’s reasons for canceling NCRF’s account and introducing additional requirements started out as dubious, and as time went on and pressure mounted, the bank’s story changed several times. Suffice it to say, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which Chase made its initial decision to cancel the account on any grounds other than political or anti-religious bias.

Brownback’s experience isn’t unique. In 2019, the bank famously buckled to fringe political interests by announcing it would “no longer bank the private prison industry.” That same year, it initially denied payment processing services to mainstream GOP-affiliated group Defense of Liberty before backing down and allowing payments to process. A pair of similar incidents — involving former Gen. Michael Flynn and the Arkansas Family Council— occurred in 2021.

grassroots campaign NCRF launched has resulted in numerous reports from everyday Americans who say their Chase accounts have been closed under similar circumstances.

As Nebraska State Treasurer John Murante and financial officers from 12 other states noted in a recent letter to Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, financial institutions cannot use political ideology to decide who can access their own bank accounts. In addition to calling on Chase to end its apparent pattern of viewpoint discrimination in banking, Murante also urged Dimon to make good on his long-held commitment to shareholder transparency by participating in the survey portion of the Viewpoint Diversity Score Business Index, which evaluates corporate policies, practices, and activities to determine whether companies respect their stakeholders’ freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief as a standard part of doing business.

Megabanks such as Chase receive wide-reaching government benefits, including FDIC insurance rates, subsidies, bailouts, and an anti-competitive chartering system. If Chase cannot correct course on its own, state and federal officials will have no choice but to take decisive action to hold Chase accountable for its politically motivated banking decisions.

As the high-profile failures of SVB and others remind us, the public relies on bank executives to act responsibly and even-handedly. When they neglect to do so — including by elevating political agendas over fiduciary interests — they jeopardize far more than just their own bottom lines.

Michael Ross
Michael Ross
Legal Counsel
Michael Ross serves as legal counsel for the Center for Academic Freedom with Alliance Defending Freedom