Chase Bank Demands Donor List from Religious Nonprofit

November 9, 2022

When Americans apply for a checking account at a major bank, the last thing they expect to receive is a grilling over their political beliefs. But that’s what one religious nonprofit group recently endured at the hands of JPMorgan Chase. According to former U.S. Senator and Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, Chase not only closed the group’s account without explanation, but also demanded to see their donor list and a list of political candidates the group intended to support.

Brownback, who now serves as the nonprofit’s Chairman, recounted the disturbing incident in the Washington Examiner:

“[T]hree weeks after opening our nonprofit business checking account, we received a letter notifying us that Chase had decided to ‘end their relationship’ with the National Committee for Religious Freedom and that our account would be closed. The bank actually closed our account before we received the letter…

What shocked and surprised me the most was when someone from Chase eventually reached out to our executive director and informed him that it would be willing to reconsider doing business with the NCRF if we would provide our donor list, a list of political candidates we intended to support, and a full explanation of the criteria by which we would endorse and support those candidates. It was entirely inappropriate to ask for this type of information. Does Chase ask every customer what politicians they support and why before deciding whether or not to accept them as a customer?”

It’s a question that Americans of all beliefs and backgrounds deserve an answer to. All nonprofit causes depend on access to basic financial services like checking accounts to carry out their missions. Needless to say, it is extremely troubling to see a bank seemingly cancel a customer because of their political and/or religious beliefs.

So far, Chase has denied the charge.

“Of course, I’m not able to speak about confidential client matters,” a spokesperson told Fox Business. “But what I can say is we have never and would never exit a client relationship due to their political or religious affiliation.”

There’s reason to be skeptical of that claim, however. As Tiffany Donnelly from the Institute for Free Speech notes, the bank has failed to answer NCRF’s requests for information about why their account was shuttered. Moreover, demanding the group’s donor list and a list of preferred candidates is an odd way to remedy legitimate concerns about the group’s viability as a banking customer, if there were any.

What we do know is that Chase’s demand for donor information raises major concerns for privacy and free speech.

“[W]hile banks are not government actors, all nonprofits should fear new requirements for private donor information,” Donnelly warns in The Daily Caller. “As we have seen at government bureaucracies, it only takes one rogue employee with a grudge to publicly reveal reams of sensitive information. Banks, likewise, should realize these risks and respect the strong culture of free expression and tolerance that allowed them to thrive in the United States in the first place.”

Americans recognize the serious threat that harassment and intimidation of speakers pose to our First Amendment rights today. One way citizens mitigate those risks is by joining and supporting causes privately so that they can benefit from strength – and safety – in numbers. Any incursion on their ability to do so is worthy of pushback, no matter the source. Make that double when discussing one of the world’s largest financial institutions.

The best thing banks can do to support free speech is butt out of their customers’ political views. Give free speech room to breathe, let people have their privacy, and stop demanding nonprofits’ donor lists.

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