If you rob a bank, you’re looking at doing 20 years hard time. But what if a bank robs you?
Ah, that’s an entirely different deal. Unlike you, national banks that do wrong generally don’t fear the cop on the beat. Why not? Because the cop’s salary is paid by the banks.
Most of the Big Boys of the banking world operate under national charters rather than state, and all national banks are regulated by the little-known Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Even less known is the fact that the federal office does not go through the congressional appropriations process for its multi-million dollar budget. Instead, it’s financed almost exclusively by the banks it regulates — indeed, 70 percent of its funds come from the very largest banks.
As pointed out by Robert Morgenthau, the venerable district attorney of Manhattan, these annual payments from the banks amount to protection money, because the Office of the Comptroller “has shown itself to be a timid regulator, even in the face of flagrant wrongdoing.” Morgenthau notes that when such banking outfits as Bank of America, Riggs and Wells Fargo have been caught breaking our country’s money laundering laws, the Comptroller’s office was more than lenient — it took no formal enforcement action at all.
Worse, the banking cop has aided bank larceny, going to court to stop states and cities from banning certain ATM fees and check-cashing fees. In essence, the big banks are paying their cop to assist them in robbing you.
In 2003, the Office of the Comptroller provided an extraordinary favor for national banks by decreeing that their subsidiaries are exempt from regulation by state banking authorities. Thus, if a branch of a national bank does you wrong, your state officials can’t help you. Your only recourse is to the Comptroller’s office — which the banks own.
And bankers wonder why no one loves them.
Jim Hightower writes