Citing marijuana, Wells Fargo won't take Nikki Fried's money - Florida Politics

Citing marijuana, Wells Fargo won’t take Nikki Fried’s money

Wells Fargo closed down campaign accounts for Agriculture Commissioner candidate Nikki Fried after finding out she supported legalizing medical marijuana and accepted money from players in the industry.

The Fort Lauderdale Democrat plans to address the bank’s “arbitrary, unprecedented action” at a Tallahassee news conference at the Capitol Monday morning.

The bank first started inquiring about Fried’s political position on marijuana on July 11, about a month after she opened a campaign account with the bank.

Antoinette Infante, a Miami-based senior “relationship manager” and business banking vice president at Wells Fargo, wrote to the campaign that bank officials uncovered information Fried was “advocating for expanded patient access to medical marijuana.”

Nikki Fried speaks at a Tallahassee news conference Monday morning.

“Can you confirm the types of transactions expected for this customer & if any of the transactions will include funds received from lobbyists from the medical marijuana industry in any capacity?” Infante wrote in an email to Fried campaign treasurer Gloria Maggiolo.

Fried in fact holds medical marijuana access as a central plank of her campaign. She used to be a registered lobbyist working on behalf of the industry, and she’s taken contributions from players in that space.

A review of Fried’s campaign finances shows donations from Savara Hastings, executive director of the American Medical Marijuana Physicians Association, and Jake Bergmann, CEO for medical marijuana company Surterra Holdings, among others in the industry.

In a letter noting contributions “will be, and have been” received from medical marijuana lobbyists, executives, employees and corporations, Maggiolo wrote back to Wells Fargo questioning the unusual inquiry.

“I’ve never received a request of this nature from a financial institution,” Maggiolo wrote.

Wells Fargo on Aug. 3 notified the campaign it would need to close all accounts at the institution. The bank sent out a letter to that effect the same day.

“As a result of a recent review of your account relationships, we determined that we need to discontinue our business relationship and close the account,” the letter reads. Indeed, all accounts were closed as of Saturday, Aug. 18.

Medical marijuana is legal in Florida: More than 71 percent of voters in 2016 voted in favor of a constitutional amendment legalizing cannabis for debilitating medical conditions.

Since then, the regulation of the industry evolved slowly in Tallahassee. Orlando attorney John Morgan is supporting a legal challenge to Florida’s ban on smoking medical marijuana.

Morgan, as it happens, has been a major supporter of Fried. Last week, he served on a host committee for a fundraiser for the candidate in Orlando.

But Morgan has been a major financial player in politics for years; it’s hard to imagine Wells Fargo would refuse to cash his checks.

The big banks, though, have struggled with doing business with cannabis retailers. Because federal law still prohibits the sale of marijuana, even in states where it has been decriminalized for medical or recreational purposes, most FDIC-insured institutions won’t risk doing business with marijuana companies.

That led GRN Funds in July to announce it would enter the Florida market and do business with companies that can’t work with other banks.

But financial institutions say trepidation in handling marijuana money comes from fear of being charged with money laundering.

Closing down Fried’s accounts goes a step further, refusing to do business with someone who supports the legalization or medical marijuana and who might accept money that comes from individuals potentially profiting from its sale.

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

9 Comments

  1. Nikki,

    Take note: The bank can do business, or not do business, with whomever they wish provided they are not discriminating against a protected class. The last time I checked, being unqualified or accepting money from supporters of misguided issues is not a protected class.

    1. While a bank may be allowed to discriminate politically, it is incredibly bad business to do so, particularly when the issue taken is contrary to the view expressed by the 71% majority that voted in favor of this issue in 2016. They will lose not only the accounts of those who consider this an important issue, but the accounts of any who believe a bank should bank and stay out choosing winners and losers based on political beliefs. A political gift for Ms. Fried; a shot in the foot for an already publicity-beleaguered bank.

    2. why is it Walkers amateur campaign staff are always following Nikki around instead of out raising money or better yet asking for votes and even give the voters a reason to vote for Walker instead of being negative, what rank amateurs

  2. No loss there. I wouldn’t bank at Wells Fargo if they paid me! Chase is not without some faults- (tho they have reduced business with gunmakers- WF refused to change business w/ gun industry) – but we’ve been very happy with Chase 10+ years

  3. Over 71 percent of Florida’s voters in 2016 voted for medical Maraguna in Florida, th9s would be a losing effort by any company or campaign to oppose Medical Maraguna in Florida. I will suspect wells Fargo will lose more depositors just like they did last year, and in ads, they claim they have cleaned up their act and even rebranded the name Wells Fargo- good luck with that

    1. South Florida:

      Please check spelling, grammar, and typos before posting in the future.

  4. I will be closing my accounts to this bank and no longer be referring home buyers to its mortgage department.
    Greg Erkins – Email Realty

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