A challenge to corporate cancel culture at JPMorgan Chase | WORLD
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A challenge to corporate cancel culture at JPMorgan Chase

Shareholders, state treasurers, and attorneys general deserve answers from America’s largest bank

An entrance to JPMorgan Chase headquarters on Madison Avenue in New York, N.Y. Associated Press/Photo by Stefan Jeremiah

A challenge to corporate cancel culture at JPMorgan Chase
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America’s largest bank, JPMorgan Chase, has shown a troubling pattern of removal of services from conservative and Christian groups. The most egregious, and notable, case was the cancellation without prior notice of a religious liberty group founded by Sam Brownback, former U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom. But there have been other instances, related to groups such as the Arkansas Family Council and Defense of Liberty, a pro-Trump group.

Financial adviser and investor David Bahnsen responded by proposing a resolution to appear on the ballot before the other shareholders. The bank attempted to persuade the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that this was not a proper matter for a shareholder vote, but Bahnsen, with the help of the Alliance Defending Freedom, was able to prevail with the SEC, and therefore Bahnsen’s proposal appeared on the company ballot during the shareholder meeting on May 16.

Prior to the meeting, the movement to hold the company accountable had gained momentum. Nebraska Treasurer John Murante, along with 14 state financial officials, wrote a letter expressing exactly the same concerns. More recently, 19 state attorneys general, led by Kentucky AG Daniel Cameron, sent a letter to the company calling on the company to explain its behavior.

The company has responded by stating: “It is not our policy to debank people because of their political views or religious affiliation.” But this is a straw man. Of course, the company does not have a policy of excluding services based on religion or politics. No public company would dare to have such a policy. The question is whether there are vague and subjective criteria for debanking that allow room for bias. There are confirmed examples of cancellation of services to conservative groups. But after being asked, the company was unable to provide examples of any liberal groups that have had service denied. Why?  

Alliance Defending Freedom’s Viewpoint Diversity Index assigns JPMorgan a dismal 15 percent out of a possible 100 percent for respect for diverse viewpoints, including the diversity of viewpoint of its customers. It mentions “Terms of Use/Service” with “Unclear or Imprecise Terms.” That’s how corporate cancel culture works, hiding behind vague terms, like prohibitions against hateful or harmful speech. Such standards can be enforced by a corporate culture in which liberal sympathies perhaps collide with Sam Brownback’s religious freedom work, even finding his group hateful. At the same time, the bank finds the BLM Foundation worthy of corporate donations.

The annual meeting was just the beginning of the debate. Expect more shoes to drop in the next few weeks.

It’s not only ADF finding fault with JPMorgan. The 1792 Exchange's Corporate Bias Report classifies the company as “high risk” when it comes to the probability of denial of services based on views and beliefs. And The American Conservative Values Fund, which conducts an annual poll of conservative investors, lists JPMorgan Chase as among the “Worst of The Worst Companies Most Hostile to Conservative Values.” Paul Chesser of the Corporate Integrity Project of the conservative National Legal and Policy Center has registered a statement that is the corporate proxy equivalent of an amicus brief with the company and the SEC, supporting Bahnsen’s resolution.

On May 16, the owners of the company were given a chance to vote on this issue.

As expected, the resolution failed. Shareholder proposals almost always fail, and the biases of large asset managers (who tend to vote liberal with their conservative clients’ money) as well as the biases of proxy advisory services cause proposals from conservatives to do even worse. But Bahnsen’s challenge was important.

The annual meeting was just the beginning of the debate. Expect more shoes to drop in the next few weeks. Skepticism against corporations and their cancel cultures is now deeply engrained among (formerly) pro-business middle class conservatives. The backlash seen against Disney (and now Anheuser-Busch) is probably more broadly based than the progressive coalition that pushed them into the culture war to begin with. And, in addition, giant Wall Street banks are not exactly winning popularity contests. Arguably, a power calculation shows that big business is running out of friends and should be careful not to alienate any more.

At a moral level, it’s just wrong for financial institutions to put a thumb on the scale when it comes to who gets to keep their bank accounts and who doesn’t. “We don’t serve your kind here” is bad business and bad ethics. By many measures, JPMorgan Chase is an incredibly well-run bank, but it’s an incredibly poorly run arbiter of which political viewpoints should be tolerated and which should not. It should stick to what it’s good at, and that starts with taking the concerns of conservatives seriously and being open and transparent with an owner of goodwill who is asking legitimate questions.

Jerry Bowyer

Jerry Bowyer is the chief economist of Vident Financial, editor of Townhall Finance, editor of the business channel of The Christian Post, host of Meeting of Minds with Jerry Bowyer podcast, president of Bowyer Research, and author of The Maker Versus the Takers: What Jesus Really Said About Social Justice and Economics. He is also resident economist with Kingdom Advisors, serves on the Editorial Board of Salem Communications, and is senior fellow in financial economics at the Center for Cultural Leadership. Jerry lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, Susan, and the youngest three of his seven children.

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