Operation Choke Point – Scary in Scope

Operation Choke Point (OCP) has garnered a great deal of attention in the press recently. Initiated by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2013, the operation is an investigation of banks that may be doing business with a laundry list of businesses which the DOJ considers at high risk for fraud. These businesses include pay day lenders, coin dealers, firearms sales companies, debt consolidators, surveillance equipment sellers and tobacco sales businesses. There are at least 30 types of companies on the list. Perhaps there are some unscrupulous players within each of these categories, but I suspect there also are some honest, law-abiding companies. Some are suggesting that the administration is using these tactics for social-engineering its own agenda. I must say, it seems suspicious.

The big question is, why investigate banks that are doing business with these companies? Banks are being ordered to close deposit accounts, often for legitimate companies. Why not investigate directly the companies that are suspected of improper dealings? Why is the DOJ using banks to freeze these companies out of the payment system? This approach is illogical and downright scary.

Back in the 1950s, we had a similar situation when Sen. Joseph McCarthy waged a witch hunt for communist sympathizers. His bullying of U.S. citizens finally stopped when proved to be based on a big lie, but only after the reputations of many innocent people were ruined by his accusations and fabrications. The lesson learned was that our government is here to serve its citizens, not harass or persecute them.

This time, not only are some of the businesses in question being harassed and persecuted, but banks are being used as a weapon by the government to do the harassing and, arguably, the persecution. These businesses are customers of banks, not some criminals that banks are harboring to avoid detection by the long arm of the law. I would argue that banks are likewise being harassed and persecuted as a result of being used by the DOJ.

It seems counterintuitive that, in this time of the strongest anti-bullying sentiment I have ever seen in this country, that the DOJ is bullying banks and businesses it judges as being at high risk of fraud. This is simply unacceptable. Congress is becoming involved in this situation and is beginning to question the actions of the DOJ in Operation Choke Point.

Notice that I have not stated anything about political parties in this debate. This issue is not about politics. In the 1950s, McCarthy was a Republican, and the Democrats were the first to question his tactics, but eventually many Republicans joined in ending the egregious actions against U.S. citizens. This time, the administration that the DOJ works for is led by Democrats, and Republicans were the first to question OCP tactics. However, as with the McCarthy Era shenanigans, Democrats and Republicans have joined forces to question the harassment and persecution of banks and other legitimate businesses.

Government needs to remember that it serves its citizens, and that we are all innocent until proven guilty. Operation Choke Point is choking more than targeted businesses – it is choking our rights and founding principals.

 – S. Joe DeHaven

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