- The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Antitrust Division said on Friday it is soliciting public comments on whether and how to review the 1995 Bank Merger Competitive Review Guidelines.
- The division’s announcement comes amid an unprecedented partisan debate within the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) board of directors. Three Democratic board members are at odds with FDIC Chair Jelena McWilliams in a battle over bank merger review and control over the agency’s agenda.
- "The Antitrust Division shares with its federal partners an interest in ensuring bank mergers do not harm competition and the competitive process," Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter of the Antitrust Division said in a statement.
In a blow to McWilliams and other outspoken Republican critics, the DOJ is throwing its weight behind Democratic FDIC board members who wish to discuss changes to bank merger review.
Kanter expressed approval for Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Rohit Chopra, the FDIC board member who is at the helm of Democrats’ efforts to revise bank merger policy.
"I commend Director Chopra for his leadership in this area, and look forward to reviewing updated comments as the division undertakes this important review," Kanter said. "I am grateful to those stakeholders who participated in the public comment process so far, and I invite them and any other interested parties to remain engaged in it."
The division published a public comments topics and issues guide online, to further clarify the scope of the public comments.
Earlier this month, Chopra, along with two fellow FDIC board Democrats – former FDIC Director Martin Gruenberg and Acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael Hsu – voted to issue a request for information on bank merger regulations.
However, McWilliams, a Trump appointee has staunchly opposed the efforts by board Democrats, and argued that only the chair has the authority to set the agenda.
During a public meeting, McWilliams struck down a request by Chopra to include the notational vote and request for information in the FDIC’s official minutes.
Now, it appears the DOJ has sided with the FDIC's Democratic board members to explore the possibility of introducing more stringent requirements for mergers and acquisitions by banks.
On Sept. 1, 2020, the DOJ Antitrust Division published a similar press release that sought public comments on revising bank merger policy. The most recent call for comments builds upon the previous release, and focuses "on whether bank merger review is currently sufficient to prevent harmful mergers and whether it accounts for the full range of competitive factors appropriate under the laws."
The DOJ Antitrust Division said it will field public comments via email until Feb. 15, 2022.