Using pressure tactics or government regulations, progressives have sought to banish from the market business activity they dislike. Some Republicans have responded in kind.
In New Hampshire, House Bill 1469 showcases a Republican effort to cement culture war preferences in law. It offers a case study in regulatory overreach.
The bill creates a list of “prohibited acts for banks, credit unions, and businesses.” The list is long, vague and broad. And despite the title, the bill regulates every New Hampshire business, not just the financial industry.
HB 1469 labels as “discrimination” many non-financial reasons for not doing business with someone.
Among the prohibitions: No financial institution may “discriminate against, impose as a precondition, advocate for or cause adverse treatment of, any person, business, or organization in their business practices” based on “ideological, philosophical, or political views and opinions” or other enumerated non-financial criteria.
The non-financial criteria include “social media posts; Internet browsing history, dietary habits, medical status, participation or membership in any clubs, associations, or unions, etc.; political affiliation; or place of employment or source of legal income.”
The bill would write similar language into the state’s Consumer Protection Act. The Attorney General’s Office testified that this would “regulate all businesses” in the state, something sponsors did not appear to intend.
Thus every decision not to transact business would be open to potential civil rights litigation on the grounds that it might have been tainted by a non-financial consideration.
In going after “woke” global corporations, HB 1469 would treat small New Hampshire businesses the way the Colorado Civil Rights Commission treated a Christian cake baker — as pawns in a broader culture war.
Such a sweeping regulation of private business activity could be seen as justified if Granite Staters had access to only one bank. But they can choose from hundreds of financial institutions.
New Hampshire has 16 state-chartered banks, eight state-chartered credit unions and 34 state-chartered trust companies. That’s in addition to 783 federally chartered banks, including many that are online-only and process applications in minutes.
If one or 10 or 50 banks decide not to do business with center-right customers in a center-right country, competitors would immediately take up that business. Fear that conservatives will lose all banking privileges is overblown.
There is no shortage of financial institutions willing to take Americans’ money. And there is no shortage of entrepreneurs who would be happy to get rich by lending money to gun owners, meat eaters and other practitioners of great American pastimes.
But there is a shortage of states where legislators resist the temptation to let people resolve their differences peacefully in a free and open marketplace. New Hampshire is one of the few places where leaving people alone is a cultural value. Kill that here, and the consequences will be a lot worse than some bank deciding to lose money by shrinking its customer base.
Some Republicans think they need a law to protect them from businesses run by Democrats. But the market already does that via competition. Expanding business regulations so broadly will only give left-wing activists another tool with which to control businesses once their allies return to power, which is inevitable.
When that happens, conservatives will want to be able to argue against such proposals on free-market grounds. Regulating the political motives of every business transaction will do more than topple Republicans from that moral high ground. It will amount to abandoning the hill and destroying it.
The state banking commissioner testified that the department has received no complaints of political discrimination in banking. Given that, a less burdensome alternative is obvious, if lawmakers feel that they have to “do something.” Task the department with collecting consumer complaints about discriminatory practices and reporting those complaints annually to the Legislature.
If financial institutions begin to systematically turn away right-of-center customers and business partners, this will show up in the data. If those customers are unable to find other institutions willing to take their business, then lawmakers could consider an appropriate legislative remedy.
In the meantime, legislators might want to consider the wisdom of a recently departed Granite Stater who cautioned that “there are just two rules of governance in a free society. Mind your own business. Keep your hands to yourself.”