On Sunday night, Rep. Brad Miller, a Democrat from Bank of America's home state of North Carolina, attended a general assembly meeting of Occupy Raleigh, the local offshoot of the national protest movement against Wall Street greed and abuse. When he returned to Washington, he announced the introduction of a bill that aims to make it easier for millions of consumers to take part in their own personal marches -- away from big banks.
As of now, major banks employ a variety of tactics to make it difficult for consumers to walk away when they jack up fees, as Bank of America did recently by announcing a new $5 monthly debit fee, blaming Wall Street reform for necessitating the hike. Congress can pass legislation countering abusive fees, but without a real free market, banks are able to figure out new ways to wring money from customers. Instead of focusing on regulation, said Miller, the goal should be to create a true free market.
“If we can find a way to introduce real competition into banking, that'd do more than any regulation," Miller told HuffPost. "The biggest banks have turned the switch for market forces to the off position. If consumers could shop around for banks the way they can for everything else, banks wouldn’t think they had a God-given right to pay their executives vulgar bonuses and still make enormous profits, and consumers would get a much better deal."
On Thursday, the nearly 800,000-member advocacy group Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) launched a national campaign to win support for Miller's legislation, calling on people to sign a petition and contact their member of Congress.
"Across America, a simmering rage is coming to a boil against Wall Street greed," PCCC emailed to supporters. "The Occupy Wall Street movement has channeled this anger. Today, we're focusing it into a deep corporate accountability campaign against one of Wall Street's worst actors. Rep. Miller's bill is just the first step. Later, we'll organize at local branches across the country and target Bank of America with hard-hitting ads."
The PCCC petition also allows members to send notes of support to Occupy Wall Street protesters. "Our staffer on the ground will personally deliver these notes to their General Assembly," read the email.
Bank lobbyists are blaming Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) for the new fee, arguing that his amendment to cap the fees banks can charge merchants when customers use debit cards left Bank of America no choice but to implement it. Durbin, in response, encouraged consumers to make their own choice.
"My word to consumers across America is, talk with your feet, look for a debit card that doesn't charge the Bank of America fee," Durbin told HuffPost, adding that the revenue the bank will earn from the new fee likely far outstrips what it will lose to swipe fee reform. "It would be no surprise if we found out that Bank of America is overcharging consumers again. They've been found guilty of that in the past, but I really encourage consumers across America to look for competition that doesn't charge this fee, move their debit cards."
WATCH video of Rep. Miller at Occupy Raleigh: