The Daily Caller reported today that the Benham brothers, David and Jason, learned on Thursday that SunTrust, the bank with which they’ve been doing their foreclosure-property business, has decided to cut all business ties with them.
The Benhams are the brother duo whose HGTV show was cancelled while it was in production, due to the brothers’ views on traditional marriage.
The Benhams, in their statement, said the news came “without warning or explanation from SunTrust and took place over a 15 minute period” on Thursday. The Brothers said they have had a “mutually productive working relationship with SunTrust for many years” and hold a “preferred broker” status with the bank.
The brothers said they contacted SunTrust, but bank employees declined to explain the reasoning for what happened.
I think I can help them out with that explanation. SunTrust was one of several banks that the Holder Justice Department went after during Obama’s first term, with charges of discriminatory lending practices. Specifically, the allegation was that SunTrust’s practices were racially discriminatory, with black and Hispanic borrowers having to pay higher rates.
The settlement SunTrust ended up paying out wasn’t excruciating. For a company with $178 billion in assets in 2012, when the settlement was reached, a $21 million payout wouldn’t have dented shareholders or investors too badly. Bank of America had to pay out $335 million in a racial-discrimination settlement in late 2011.
But now SunTrust is under DOJ investigation again for alleged issues in its dealings with the TARP-backed Home Affordable Mortgage Program (HAMP), and the handling of mortgage assets it sold to Fannie Mae. According to a regulatory filing by SunTrust in early 2014, the company’s total payouts will soar to $1 billion, and possibly more.
We can choose to believe that the Holder Justice Department has simply unearthed a cesspool of lending corruption at SunTrust. It’s more likely that SunTrust, and the other financial institutions that keep forking over in settlements after months of little-reported investigation by the Obama DOJ, are simply being extorted.
We can choose, likewise, to believe that SunTrust just now realized that it had been dealing with the unrighteous when it formed a business relationship with the Benham brothers, and has zealously corrected that error. Or we can assume, with a much greater chance of being correct, that SunTrust (a) saw the writing on the wall, given that it’s been crawling with DOJ investigators since 2009 and there’s apparently no end in sight, or (b) someone at DOJ pointed that fact out to SunTrust, in the nature of a broad hint.
In any case, the Obama administration has found a way to directly attack the livelihoods of those who persist in holding to their own beliefs on moral questions. Keep the banks in a perpetual state of fear, and you probably don’t even need to lean on them to get them to drop someone’s business.
It’s all of a piece with Operation Choke Point, the Holder program to squeeze banks and shut down the financial resources of payday lenders, gun retailers, and the porn industry.
The remarkable thing may actually be the efficiency with which the evidence is being presented to us: that attempts to gain full federal control of the financial industry, through regulation and extortion, will choke off the freedoms we care about the most. Few of us give much thought to the freedoms of the porn industry. We tend to see them as the collateral price we pay for having freedoms that are actually beneficial. But those beneficial freedoms are under a clear and present attack, by the same mailed fist that is going after the porn industry. Jason and David Benham are some of the earliest and most clear-cut targets.
* UPDATE *: TheDC posted a follow-up story late on Friday, and reportedly, SunTrust has now reversed its previous decision and restored the Benhams to its good graces. SunTrust blamed the whole kerfuffle on a third-party vendor, although TheDC says the third-party vendor claimed SunTrust made the original decision:
By Friday afternoon, SunTrust released a statement saying the decision had been reversed. The bank didn’t go into detail about why they originally cut ties with the Benham brothers, though SunTrust said the decision was made by a third party vendor. TheDC reported earlier Friday that the vendor had told a Benham Brothers franchisee that the bank itself made the decision.
According to a bank official:
“SunTrust supports the rights of all Americans to fully exercise their freedoms granted under the Constitution, including those with respect to free speech and freedom of religion.”
TheDC notes that conservative media outlets expressed outrage over SunTrust’s cut-off of the Benhams. This may or may not end the saga; SunTrust is still under investigation by the DOJ.