As faith leaders in Utah, we are concerned with a gaping hole in state and federal law that is having dire consequences throughout the state, country and the world. We feel it is time as citizens to call on our representatives to correct this oversight and give law enforcement the tools they need to protect us and our financial system. It is time to end the legal twilight zone where anonymous shell companies are used to protect criminals.
Anonymous shell companies incorporated in the United States have financed human trafficking, weapons trafficking, terrorism, predatory financial crimes and more. U.S.-based anonymous shell companies also fuel corruption, poverty and instability around the world by enabling the corrupt to siphon money from communities in developing countries desperate for those resources. Every year, the developing world loses nearly a trillion dollars from illicit financial flows. This far outstrips what these countries receive in aid.
Much of this money finds its way into the security of the U.S. financial system, thanks to laws permitting companies to hide their true owners. An academic study found that the United States is the easiest country in the world for corrupt foreign officials to open anonymous shell companies and hide stolen money. Giving law enforcement and financial institutions with anti money-laundering mandates access to beneficial ownership information would help prevent kleptocrats and corrupt officials from using the U.S. financial system to hide their ill-gotten gains.
The Corporate Transparency Act instructs the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to collect the ownership information of corporations unless a state chooses to collect it on its own. The information collected will not be made public, but will be available only to law enforcement for use in investigations as well as to financial institutions to assist with their customer due diligence responsibilities. The Treasury and Justice departments think this is so important that they have made $40 million available to states for transitional costs from the agencies’ asset forfeiture funds (money recovered from the same types of criminals this bill would help to catch).
We write today to express our strong support for the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA), S. 1717/H.R. 3089, which requires American companies to disclose basic information about the real people who own or control them in a private database only available to law enforcement with a warrant and banks with customer consent. The law is narrowly tailored to target shell companies used by criminals to launder money and commit crime. We ask our elected officials to co-sponsor this important legislation and work for its passage.
The bill has robust support from faith groups, the law enforcement community, financial institutions, anti-corruption groups, liberal and conservative scholars and the small business community, because we can all see how it will help protect our communities and our country. As faith leaders, we assess any legislation by its impact on the most vulnerable. Anonymous shell companies facilitate crimes that violate our most sacred obligations to each other, targeting the elderly, children, the sick, ordinary taxpayers and some of the world’s most vulnerable people. It is our duty as people of faith to call on our representatives and work for change to a system that allows the guilty to hide while they oppress the widow and the orphan.
The Rev. Anita Miner is a parish deacon at All Saints Episcopal in Salt Lake and a graduate of Hood College and Middlebury College. The Rev. David Nichols is the pastor at Mount Tabor Lutheran Church, ELCA, in Salt Lake, a graduate of UC Berkeley and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley.