Amalgamated Bank, with just five branches across three cities, would seem an unlikely mover and shaker in the world of Wall Street, let alone Washington, D.C. Yet last fall, it successfully pressured colossal credit card companies Visa, Mastercard, and American Express to use the financial system to track and report gun purchases. Amalgamated is “more than a bank,” says Michael Watson of the Capital Research Center. “It’s a bank for an ideological movement.”
This “ideological” bank holds $7 billion in deposits and manages or maintains custody of some $51 billion. That pales in comparison to financial institutions such as JP Morgan, with its $2.4 trillion in deposits, or the $8.6 trillion in assets managed by BlackRock. But Amalgamated’s outsize influence owes to its role as cue to the wider corporate world given the major sources of that money – the Democratic Party, progressive activist groups, and major labor unions.
Amalgamated is the commercial banker for the Democratic National Committee, along with Joe Biden and virtually every other 2020 presidential contender, and congressional leaders like Rep. Nancy Pelosi. All told, Amalgamated serves more than 500 political organizations. As the New York Times said of Amalgamated, it is “the left’s private banker.”
The bank also works closely with more than 1,000 unions, including the nation’s second-largest union, the Service Employees International Union – alongside other behemoth government employee unions. The bulk of Amalgamated’s trust and investment management business comes from institutional clients, including union pension funds.
Amalgamated’s deep ties to the Democratic Party and its support for liberal and leftist political causes may make it a new model for how progressive corporations, politicians, and activists can work together to push favored causes outside the political process. As an admiring Andrew Ross Sorkin, the New York Times financial journalist, put it in a July 2022 conversation with Amalgamated CEO Priscilla Sims-Brown, “We’re at quite a moment, and your bank is a microcosm of so much of it.”
Amalgamated has been especially active in promoting anti-gun efforts. The initiative that landed the bank on the radar of congressional Republicans was originally advocated by Sorkin. In 2018, following several mass shootings, the Times columnist suggested that banks and credit card processors develop gun retailer-specific merchant category codes (MCCs). When one makes a purchase with a card issued by American Express, Mastercard, or Visa, such transactions are reported to the payment brand with a code that can be used to track a customer’s activities.
In July 2021, Amalgamated took up the cause, petitioning the relevant code-blessing International Organization for Standardization, to create a new credit card code covering standalone gun and ammunition retail stores. Months later, in October 2021, Senate and House Democrats took up companion bills directing Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network to collect information from financial institutions to develop “an advisory regarding the reporting of suspicious transactions related to gun violence.”
The bills languished, but a Gun Violence Prevention Caucus convened by Senate Democrats hopes to introduce it again. Sorkin, who did not respond to RealClearInvestigations inquiries about his activism, wrote that the code would be “only the beginning” of a broader gun control effort.
Republican senators wrote in a subsequent letter that the code aimed “to target, surveil and discourage gun and ammunition sellers.” They added: “Your actions were a major step toward targeting law-abiding Americans exercising their right to purchase firearms.”
Amalgamated has also taken a leading role in the financial services industry’s push to drive the green agenda. In April 2021, the bank reported it had helped launch the Net Zero Banking Alliance. The financial sub-group of a broader, United Nations-backed coalition consists of 119 banks with $70 trillion in assets that have “committed to aligning their lending and investment portfolios with net-zero emissions by 2050.”
Last October, attorneys general representing 19 states revealed they were investigating six major U.S. banks over their participation in the alliance – excluding Amalgamated. Then-Missouri Attorney General, now Senator Eric Schmitt, a Republican, said that the states were probing the “banks for ceding authority to the U.N., which will only result in the killing of American companies that don’t subscribe to the woke, climate agenda.”
RealClearInvestigations contacted the offices of several attorneys general leading the probe to ask if Amalgamated had become a subject of their investigation given its role in the alliance. The Missouri AG’s office replied that it had no comment, as the investigation was pending.
Amalgamated has also submitted input on, and formally endorsed, relevant regulations proposed by the Biden SEC, such as its controversial proposed climate risk disclosure rule. Amalgamated was the sole banker for the Biden presidential campaign.
With the Senate in Democrats’ hands, it is unclear if Republican leaders on the Banking and Judiciary Committees who had put Amalgamated on notice last fall for its gun control push will follow through. Like their Senate counterparts, House Financial Services Committee Republicans were tight-lipped when RealClearInvestigations inquired about any pending Amalgamated probe.
Some critics argue that Amalgamated’s extraordinary business model – leveraging money from Democrats and unions, including those of public sector employees, to pursue policies often championed by those very clients – creates novel conflicts. Richard Morrison, senior fellow at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, told RealClearInvestigations that “to the extent” Amalgamated has “clients who are policymakers … they should be scrutinized over whether the progressive policy changes they’re lobbying for will benefit them … and whether their influential clients exerted any influence to make such changes happen.”
He added, however, that “If other corporations can lobby for lower corporate tax rates, Amalgamated can lobby for gun control measures.”
This article was adapted with permission from a RealClearInvestigations article published Feb. 7.