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Wells Fargo closes account of Florida Democrat who said she'd take donations from marijuana industry

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Wells Fargo bank recently terminated the campaign account of a Florida political candidate after inquiring whether the candidate intended to receive donations "from the medical marijuana industry in any capacity," according to documents released Monday by the campaign.

Democrat Nikki Fried, running for state Agriculture Commissioner, is a former lobbyist who worked on behalf of a number of industries, including medical marijuana. The documents show that not long after Fried opened a campaign account with Wells Fargo, the bank asked about her stance on medical marijuana and her intent to accept donations from the medical marijuana industry. The bank subsequently closed her account, citing its "responsibility to oversee and manage banking risks."

The move is highly unusual. Applied nationwide, such a policy could potentially jeopardize the banking access of dozens of state and national politicians, as well as state agencies tasked with regulating the marijuana industry and collecting taxes on marijuana sales.

Fried's campaign opened an account with Wells Fargo on June 13 of this year, according to documents released by the campaign.

In July the campaign's compliance manager, Gloria Maggiolo, received an email from a bank representative noting that Fried was "advocating for expanded patient access to medical marijuana" and asking whether Fried expected to receive donations from medical marijuana lobbyists in the course of her campaign.

In Maggiolo's response, she noted that "I've never received a request of this nature from a financial institution" and confirmed that Fried would likely receive contributions "from lobbyists for the medical marijuana industry, as well as from executives, employees and corporations in the medical marijuana industry." Maggiolo said that Fried was a former lobbyist for the industry, and that any contributions from any source would happen under "all applicable IRS rules, FEC regulations and Florida elections law."

According to the campaign, on Aug. 3 it received a phone call from Wells Fargo indicating that its account would be terminated "because of [Fried]'s relationship to the medical marijuana industry." The bank mailed a formal notice dated the next day, stating that following an account review done "as part of our responsibility to oversee and manage banking risks," the account would be closed within 30 days.

At a news conference on Monday, Fried said that "Wells Fargo's actions against my campaign are emblematic of what is wrong with our government and politics today," adding that she was "kicked out of a bank for voicing support of a law that is literally codified in the Florida constitution."

In a statement, Wells Fargo spokesman Bridget Braxton declined to comment on the specifics of Fried's case but said that "it is Wells Fargo's policy not to knowingly bank or provide services to marijuana businesses or for activities related to those businesses, based on federal laws under which the sale and use of marijuana is illegal even if state laws differ." By phone, she clarified that "activities related to those businesses" would include donations to politicians or any other account holders.

Though medical and recreational marijuana is legal in dozens of states, the drug remains illegal for nearly all purposes at the federal level. This has made banks wary of dealing with state-legal marijuana businesses for fear of running afoul of federal law.

In closing Fried's account, Wells Fargo appears to be taking that skittishness one step further by denying banking access not to a marijuana business, but to a political candidate who may receive donations from the marijuana industry. That could spell trouble for the dozens of national politicians who have received donations from the industry in this campaign cycle.

The National Cannabis Industry Association, for instance, a trade group for the industry, has donated thousands of dollars to at least 34 U.S. representatives and senators from across the political spectrum. Total marijuana-industry lobbying has already exceeded $1 million for the year.

Industry insiders worry that other marijuana-friendly politicians could see themselves targeted if additional banks adopt similar guidelines.

"What's next - will [Sen.] Cory Booker's accounts be closed?" asked Arnaud Dumas de Rauly, CEO of industry consultants the Blinc Group, in a statement. "Should we expect to see [New York gubernatorial] candidate Cynthia Nixon's accounts closed as well?"

This article was written by Christopher Ingraham, a reporter for The Washington Post.

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