Finer Points Blog

Standing Up to a Reckless Regulator

Sep 20, 2016
regulationEvery now and then we have the chance to stand up for what’s right against powerful forces. As the legacy of a group of colonists who stared down and defeated the world’s greatest empire, it’s virtually our birthright as Americans. So in some ways ICBA’s federal lawsuit against the National Credit Union Administration for its unlawful lending rule feels like the extension of a longstanding national tradition.

ICBA’s suit challenges the NCUA’s rule allowing tax-exempt credit unions to exceed commercial lending limits set by Congress. In a nutshell, federal law defines credit union “member business loans” to include any and all commercial loans on a credit union’s balance sheet. But the NCUA’s final rule unlawfully allows nonmember commercial loans and purchased loan participations to be excluded from the statutory limits.

Regulatory Rubber Stamp

If this issue sounds familiar, that’s because credit unions have been trying to push it through Congress for more than a decade. But lawmakers have repeatedly declined to expand credit union lending loopholes. What is a tax-exempt industry to do?

Well, if you’re the credit union industry, you simply wait for your captive federal regulator to rewrite the law for you. And that is precisely what the NCUA has done—unilaterally sidestep the legislative branch. You know, the branch of government those scrappy American provincials later enshrined in Article I of the U.S. Constitution.

The only problem for the credit unions is that ICBA was watching. Indeed, we’ve seen more than enough. After years of evolving from a regulatory agency to a cheerleader for its tax-exempt industry, the NCUA has finally gone too far. In attempting to serve as the regulatory rubber stamp for a handful of growth-oriented credit unions seeking to expand at all costs, the NCUA has overstepped its legal bounds.

Bad Faith, Bad Policy

Quite simply, the NCUA’s business-lending rule contradicts federal law, which expressly limits the amount of member business loans that may be held on credit union balance sheets. The NCUA has absolutely no authority to concoct its own exceptions to the “member business loan” definition. Indeed, the agency itself has acknowledged that it “does not have authority to amend the MBL definition through regulation.”

Not only is the NCUA rule unlawful, it’s also bad policy. The agency’s plan places undue risk on U.S. taxpayers, expands government-sponsored advantages for credit unions, and jeopardizes the safety and soundness of these institutions. Our tax dollars should not be used to promote reckless lending practices at these tax-exempt companies.

So here we are—taking a stand. ICBA’s volunteer board of community bankers has elected to confront a heedless federal agency and hold it accountable. We might not be Washington, Jefferson and Adams, but the NCUA isn’t exactly the British Empire, either.

So I encourage community bankers, our allies, and consumers everywhere to go to ICBA’s “Stop the CU Grab” website to learn more about the lawsuit and how to help through the ICBA Credit Union Litigation Fund. After all, we’re taking action not only because the law is on our side, but because it’s the right thing to do.

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