The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released a report Monday that said the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation unfairly treated gun dealers and other companies as illegal entities, and convinced banks to stop doing business with them under the Obama administration’s Operation Choke Point.

Choke Point is a program run by the Departments of Justice and Treasury that is ostensibly aimed at making sure illegal businesses don’t have access to the U.S. financial system. But many Republicans have said the Obama administration is using it to create hurdles for companies it doesn’t support, such as gun dealers and payday lenders.

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Gun dealers across the country have been unfairly targeted by a federal bank regulator as businesses that banks should not serve, according to a new House report.
Image: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

The secretive program is rarely cited by banks as they close down banking services to companies. But many have said they believe they are victims of Choke Point, such as the Oregon gun maker who was told this year it no longer had access to credit card processing services.

The House oversight committee, run by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), has been looking at Operation Choke Point for the last year, and said in its final report that the initiative has prompted banks around the country to end relationships with “high-risk” companies identified by the government. But those companies, which FDIC encouraged banks to abandon, including many legal businesses, such as gun and ammo dealers, coin dealers and others.

“FDIC explicitly intended its list of ‘high-risk merchants’ to influence banks’ business decisions,” the report said of the federal banking regulator. “FDIC policymakers debated ways to ensure that bank officials saw the list and ‘get the message.’ ”

Another industry listed were payday lenders — the report found that FDIC had what amounted to a moral vendetta against these companies, even though they are legal.

“Personal animus towards payday lending is apparent throughout the documents produced to the committee,” the report said. “Emails reveal that FDIC’s senior-most bank examiners ‘literally cannot stand payday,’ and effectively ordered banks to terminate all relationships with the industry.”

Opponents of Choke Point have said that while the program should be used to fight companies engaging in illegal practices, it’s unfair of the Obama administration to assume all business in a certain industry are breaking the law and should be cut off from banking services.

In the case of gun dealers, Issa’s committee found that the FDIC in some cases reached “memorandums of understanding” with banks that explicitly prohibited them from dealing with these companies.

“MOUs between supervised banks and FDIC Regional Offices, as well as bank policies submitted pursuant to FDIC Consent Orders, variously ‘prohibit’ payment processing for firearms merchants, characterize loans to firearms dealers as ‘undesirable,’ and generally subject firearms and ammunitions merchants to significantly higher due diligence standards,” it said.

Read the committee’s full report here: