House passes bill to end 'Operation Choke Point'

The House overwhelmingly voted to terminate a fraud prevention initiative that’s caught flak for its list of “high risk” merchants, to include those in the gun industry.

The bill, H.R.2706, saw an almost unanimous approval on Monday, sending it to the Senate. Just two lawmakers, both Democrats, voted against the measure, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Rep. Grace Napolitano of California. Backers argue the Obama-era program denied deny financial services to businesses they labeled “high risk,” including firearms-related vendors.

“It is simple: the federal government should not be able to intimidate financial institutions into dropping entire sectors of the economy as customers, based not on risk or evidence of wrongdoing, but purely on personal and political motivations,” said the bill’s sponsor, U.S. Rep. Blaine Leuktemeyer, R-Mo.

Dubbed Operation Choke Point, the 2013 initiative implemented through Department of Justice and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation took aim at a wide range of businesses thought as being ripe for fraud and money laundering to include escort services, firearm dealers, payday lenders, telemarketers and other companies. In some cases, this resulted in the termination of banking relationships by lending institutions thus “choking” access to the financial network needed to run a business. Public outcry resulted in investigations by Congress and federal regulators into the program.

The Department of Justice in August announced it shuttered the operation, with Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd calling the program “a misguided initiative conducted by the previous administration” after the House finance leaders questioned its continued mandate.

Those in the firearms industry welcomed the move to put the squeeze on Choke Point for good.

“We respect the right of financial institutions to make business decisions based on objective criteria,” said Larry Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. “It is unacceptable, however, to discriminate against businesses simply because they are engaged in the lawful commerce of firearms, an activity protected by the Second Amendment.”

The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

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