The State giveth, and the State taketh away. At least, that’s how Bank of America must feel this week, with Senator Dick Durbin taking to the Senate floor to denounce the megabank’s decision to charge $5 a month to debit card users.
The move came after the Illinois senator’s success in capping the debit card fees that banks charge to retailers, leading some to call the new BofA charge the “Durbin Fee.”
But just a few years ago, BofA was receiving billions in federal bailouts through TARP.
If the big banks and their debit card users are the losers, then who are the winners? Tim Carney says WalMart and Big Retail, who successfully lobbied Durbin for the cap:
Retailers, of course, wish the card issuers and processors would provide [debit card] service for free. Businessmen are always looking for a better deal. The businessmen in this case decided to employ regulatory robbery to get their way. Led by Walmart and the Retail Industry Leaders Association, retailers pushed for a federal cap on interchange fees.
When the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill came up, Sen. Dick Durbin introduced an amendment giving the Federal Reserve the authority to cap the interchange fee on debit cards (but not credit cards). Durbin, in the misleading populist mold of his fellow Illinoisan, Barack Obama, painted himself as the scourge of the special interests, because he was battling against the banks. But some other special interests were firmly in Durbin’s corner: the big retailers.
Melissa Merz, a former press secretary for Durbin, lobbied for Walmart on the financial regulation bill, as did former Durbin legislative aide Donni Turner. The Durbin alumna were both at the Podesta Group, and the firm’s lobbying filings indicate both lobbied on “Senate financial services regulatory reform legislation.”
At the same time, these retail lobbyists were helping fund Durbin’s campaign. Daily Caller reporter Jonathan Strong wrote “one month after the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill passed, both of those former aides, Melissa Merz and Donni Turner, attended an Aug. 10 fundraiser for Durbin hosted by the Podesta Group. A group of lobbyists mostly from the Podesta Group gave Durbin $5,000 on Aug. 10 and a $5,000 check from Walmart’s PAC cleared shortly afterward, on Aug. 27.”
But Carney perhaps overlooks one silver lining: some small banks and credit unions are exempt. And as long as our representatives are picking winners and losers, we might as well give some Main Street businesses a leg up. Leave your megabank and take your financial transactions to a credit union.
Your other option: use cash. Or local currency, even. Maybe we’ll even see people writing checks at the supermarket again?