Louisiana Bond Commission delays refinancing of state debt over ‘gun rights’ questions

AGJeff Landry raises questions about whether JPMorgan Chase is gun friendly

By: - October 22, 2021 4:36 pm
Jeff Landry

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (Image via RLDF.org)

Louisiana’s State Bond Commission delayed the refinancing of $700 million worth of the state’s debt Thursday over questions about whether the bank selected to handle the business was friendly enough to people who want to own military-style weapons.

State Treasurer John Schroder, who leads the bond commission, pulled two items off the group’s agenda that would have allowed JPMorgan Chase & Co. to handle the refinancing of state debt. Schroder said he needs more time to look into allegations about the bank’s policies regarding companies that sell military-style weapons.

If Louisiana refuses to work with JPMorgan, it could ultimately cost taxpayers more money. The JPMorgan bid had initially been put forward for approval because it was considered the best deal for the state, Schroder said. 

“We aren’t refinancing a gas station on the corner. This is a $700 million deal,” said Schroder, a Republican, after the bond commission meeting Thursday. “We have to get it right.” 

Earlier this year, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon told a congressional committee that his bank no longer does business with companies who sell military-style weapons to consumers. 

JPMorgan has also voluntarily stopped bidding on public business in Texas over gun policies. The bank is unsure about whether it complies with a new Texas law prohibiting government entities in that state from working with businesses who limit their work with firearm and ammunition companies and organizations. 

But the bank’s management has said it doesn’t believe its policies are infringing on the rights of gun owners and that it hasn’t run afoul of any gun rights rules in place in Louisiana.

“JPMorgan does not finance this very narrowly defined firearms related activity,” wrote Donald Wilbon, managing director of J.P. Morgan Securities LLC, in a letter to Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry earlier this month. “Consumers can and do use our financial products and services when purchasing firearms and firearms related items.”

“We have no policies, written or unwritten, that concern a choice by our customers to keep and bear arms,” Wilbon wrote to Landry. 

Banks that seek to do business with the State Bond Commission must affirm on a questionnaire they do not infringe on the “constitutionally protected rights of the citizens of the State to lawfully keep and bear arms,” before their applications are approved. Wilbon told Landry in his letter that JPMorgan believes it complies with this requirement from Louisiana. 

“[The company] does not have any policies that would discriminate against citizens based on the citizens exercise of their constitutional rights,” Wilbon wrote. 

Landry, a Republican, doesn’t appear to agree with this assessment. He has been raising questions about JPMorgan’s relationship with the state in conservative media outlets for the past few days. 

The attorney general has also brought up concerns about the other banks’ policies toward firearms manufacturers and owners repeatedly at the State Bond Commission in recent years

Last year, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration accused Republicans sitting on the commission — including Landry — of excluding Citigroup from the list of banks allowed to handle state financial deals over the bank’s approach toward gun sellers, according to the Associated Press.  

Citigroup has refused to do business with gun sellers that sell weapons to people who don’t pass a background check, that sell weapons to people under 21 years old, and that sell military-style weapons.  

But at that time, no concerns were raised about JPMorgan. The bank was among the eight approved in 2020 to handle Louisiana’s business when Citigroup was excluded. 

The worries over JPMorgan only surfaced this month. Landry’s office said the attorney general sent a letter to Schroder outlining Landry’s concerns with JPMorgan on Oct. 15. Schroder said he never received the letter and Landry’s never office never talked to Schroder about the issue personally.

Schroder said he learned of Landry’s concerns about JPMorgan less than a day before the bond commission was supposed to vote on the bank’s bid for business — and only because someone brought a news article to Schroder’s attention. 

“That is no way to run state government,” Schroder said of Landry’s alleged lack of communication.

Schroder and Landry are potential political rivals. Both are considering running for governor in 2023. 

Schroder said he is going to review JPMorgan’s policies toward gun manufacturers as well as those of the other seven banks who submitted bids to handle the state debt refinancing before bringing the matter before the bond commission again.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press.