A payday lending association and its largest member announced Friday a lawsuit against the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Federal Reserve over the agencies’ Operation Choke Point initiative which focuses on banks’ and payment processors’ affiliation with what the government says are high risk industries.
The program has drawn wide criticism for being politically motivated and has been characterized by opponents as an attempt for the Obama Administration to put heat on industries it does not favor. While payday lenders are the largest focus of the program, Operation Choke Point has also included industries on the legal fringe such as dating/escort services, pornography, pyramid and Ponzi schemes, and debt consolidation scams.
But it is the inclusion of the gun and ammunition sales industry that has received the most attention and made the program a priority for many activists.
Through the initiative, federal regulators are pressuring financial institutions to stop doing business with legal industries that have been classified as high risk. Failure to do so could mean sanctions for the banks and payment processors themselves.
Payday lending group the Community Financial Services Association of America (CFSA) and payday lender Advance America are fighting the program with the lawsuit.
“It is unfortunate that we now must resort to litigation to protect legal, regulated businesses from this improper federal regulatory overreach,” said Dennis Shaul, CEO of CFSA. “We have attempted to bring our concerns regarding Operation Choke Point to the attention of federal officials and Congress.”
The lawsuit notes: “Although CFSA and its members are part of a lawful and legitimate industry that serves the critical short-term credit needs of millions of American consumers, the Defendant regulatory agencies, with active support from the Department of Justice (DOJ), are engaged in a concerted campaign to drive them out of business by exerting back-room pressure on banks and other regulated financial institutions to terminate their relationships with payday lenders.”
Opponents of Operation Choke Point argue that the program is too sweeping. Rather than focusing on bad actors within an industry, the industry itself is being “choked out” of the financial system.