'Choke Point' goes far beyond guns and ammo

As more gun sellers are cut off from their banking relationships by the Department of Justice’s Operation Choke Point (OCP), members of Congress are waking up to the latest threat to consumer choice.  With calls for the administration to terminate and disavow the controversial program, American consumers must realize this effort should concern more than just Second Amendment advocates.  It has the ability to impact thousands of businesses, millions of jobs, and reach into virtually every segment of our economy. 

No more Pampered Chef, Amway, or Mary Kay cosmetics.  The same may go for that charity to which you contributed to help a cancer patient or your local Iraq war veterans.  These aggressive tactics will affect everyone who has bought fireworks from a roadside Kiwanis stand, ProActiv or other as-seen-on-TV items, or invested in Primerica financial services products.   

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From gun shops to credit repair services and from financial products to gambling, this secretive Obama administration program extends the power of the Federal government over businesses and consumers in a way never before seen.  More than two-dozen industries have already been identified by the Administration as being too risky or too rife with fraud to survive, even though most of those businesses have done nothing illegal and Americans use their products with satisfaction every day.

Consumers need to understand that Operation Choke Point impacts every consumer.  This is not about shutting down illegal business. It is about systematically taking down legal, mainstream industries while the economy, consumer choice, and personal freedom pay a heavy price. 

Instead of identifying and terminating unlawful or fraudulent businesses, which is what taxpayers and consumers demand of government, the Department of Justice and the FDIC have been advancing a strategy of guilt by association by aggressively pursuing banks and the Third-Party Payment Processors (TPPPs) that facilitate those industries’ financial transactions.  

No legislative process.  No public hearings.  Federal regulators are threatening banks with subpoenas or investigations if they don’t sever relationships with thousands of companies and their customers in the industries on the president’s hit list.  Not wanting to risk increased scrutiny, banks have already capitulated to this pressure thousands of times over and are increasingly complying with the demands of Operation Choke Point enforcement agents.  

Without access to bank accounts and payment processing companies, these businesses – many of them small businesses that collectively employ millions of Americans -- cannot survive.  

The administration first targeted the industries that have the least amount of public support.  The DoJ-led effort is moving through its list of undesirable industries even more quickly than before. After months of targeting short-term lenders, last month Chase bank started cutting ties with the adult entertainment industry.  Now the administration’s hubris has led them to hit gun and ammunition sales. On May 19, the Washington Times reported on the account freeze of Black Rifle Armory in Henderson, Nevada, and the account cancellation of Top Gun Firearms Training & Supply in Miami. It is believed that certain charities may not be far behind. 

Make no mistake: Operation Choke Point is perhaps the most brazen and widespread infringement of consumer choice and economic freedom this country has ever seen. 

This attack on consumer choice is alarming and extra-legal in character.  In a telling statement at a Consumer Rights Litigation Conference last fall, director of the Justice Department’s Consumer Protection Branch Michael Blume said that Operation Choke Point “grew out of the creativity of prosecutors on the ground” as a means of targeting industries that the Administration condemns.  What federal regulators call “creative” is a strategy for bypassing Congress and the legal system to regulate the free market and impact economic freedom.  

‘Choke Point’ is equally troubling because as a precedent, this strategy could be employed by any party in power to circumvent the legal and legislative processes that protect the free market and Americans’ freedoms. Operation Choke Point’s potential violations of the Separation of Powers can make the Executive Branch a political weapon to be used against any industry the party in power wishes to target – a standard that should be feared by Democrats and Republicans alike. 

America’s power and prosperity are founded on commitments to free industry, personal choice, and individual freedom. Operation Choke Point is an affront to each of those.  At a time when we need to be putting more Americans back to work, we cannot allow the destruction of thousands of businesses across the country, which employ millions of people and bring in billions in revenue. American freedom, exerted through consumer choice, is at stake if Congress does not act definitively to stand up against this threat to our nation’s economic security.  

Bezas is executive director of the United States Consumer Coalition, a national consumer rights organization.

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