Louisiana bans Bank of America, Citi from bond sale over gun policies

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Louisiana is using the bond market to stick up for the Second Amendment.

The state’s bond commission voted 7 to 6 Thursday to ban Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc. from working on its upcoming debt sale because of the banks’ "restrictive gun policies," the state treasury said in a statement. Bank of America and Citigroup are the two top-ranked underwriters of long-term municipal debt, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

"I personally believe the policies of these banks are an infringement on the rights of Louisiana citizens,” Treasurer John Schroder said in a statement. “As a veteran and former member of law enforcement, I take the Second Amendment very seriously."

The ban is the latest example of how corporate America has been drawn into the nation’s polarizing debate over gun control. Earlier this year, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed using the city’s business to push for stricter gun controls by limiting work with Wall Street firms that didn’t cut ties with companies that sold firearms to people under the age of 21 or dealt in high-capacity magazines.

The decision by Louisiana comes after Bank of America in April said it would stop making new loans to companies that make military-style rifles for civilian use. At the time, the bank said at least 150 of its employees had been affected by gun violence over the years. Bill Halldin, a spokesman for Bank of America, declined to comment.

Citigroup was the first major banking institution to set restrictions on the firearm industry in March, when it announced plans to prohibit retailers that are customers of the bank from offering bump stocks or selling guns to people who haven’t passed a background check or are younger than 21. The restrictions applied to companies that rely on the bank for store credit cards, lending and other services.

"Citi adopted this policy because we believe it is a positive and balanced step to promote gun safety without undermining free markets or Second Amendment rights," spokesman Scott Helfman said in an emailed statement. "It is disappointing that the taxpayers of Louisiana will be deprived from competitive bidding for necessary public works because the process has been politicized."

During 90 minutes of deliberations during a state bond commission meeting on Thursday, Louisiana legislators discussed the merits of the ban. The state said it received solicitations from 19 banks interested in underwriting the $600 million sale of so-called Garvee bonds, which would finance interstate improvements and tunnel replacements.

The exclusion won’t be a major hit to Bank of America or Citigroup, which together underwrote about $110 billion of municipal bonds last year, about 27% of those that were issued, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Louisiana state senator Jay Luneau voiced concern that the state would no longer get the best rate on the bond sale if it were to exclude the biggest underwriters. Luneau also asked the commission whether the state would also prohibit the bank awarded the bond deal from re-selling some of the debt to Bank of America and Citigroup on the secondary market.

“What I’m trying to point out is they could still be involved — even if we did this — in the secondary market,” said Luneau, a Democrat. “Some of our intent is to do business with who is best for the state of Louisiana from a financial perspective with these bonds because we’re talking about a lot of money here.”

Other state officials took Bank of America and Citigroup to task on Thursday over the gun policies, delivering a simple message: Stick to banking.

"Do you realize how important the second amendment is to the people of Louisiana?" Blake Miguez, a Republican member of Louisiana’s House of Representatives, asked Citigroup’s Brandee McHale, the company’s head of corporate citizenship.

Bloomberg News