The next amendment suggested to which Mr. Murray dissented was the proposition to make each bank show in its published statements of condition the aggregate liabilities to the association, direct and indirect, of its officers and directors.
While the law conferred upon the Comptroller of the Currency the power to prescribe the form in which reports of condition should be made, and required the publication of such reports in the same form, no Comptroller ever required liabilities of the nature indicated to be shown separately in the published statements of the banks. They always were included with the loans and discounts, although several of the Comptrollers have admitted the advisability of showing such liabilities separately.
This proposition did not contemplate the publication of the individual liabilities of the officers and directors, but that they should be shown in the aggregate.
When Mr. Murray found that this proposed amendment to the law did not meet with the approval of the Commission, he interposed an objection to its adoption, stating that such a pointed discrimination against the management of the bank would be unwise. Why discriminate, he said, against the officers and directors of a bank whose loans may be perfectly good, and let other large loans to the people not connected with the management go unquestioned?
There is a vast difference between the loans to officers and directors of a bank and those to other borrowers not connected with the association. The two classes of borrowers are by no means in the same category. The officers and directors occupy the dual relation of lender and borrower. They are the trustees of the funds which they lend to themselves and the depositors and stockholders have a right to know to what extent they are using the funds entrusted to their care for their individual purposes, or for concerns or interests with which they are identified.
No amendment to the law would be more effective in keeping such liabilities within proportionate and prudent limits than a requirement for their publication. The Comptroller had the power under the then existing law to require this to be done, by prescribing the use of a form to that effect, but, as a rule, Comptrollers at that time were averse to doing anything unpopular, especially when the unpopularity was on the side of the banks. Therefore the law should be amended to make the publication of such liabilities mandatory and not discretionary with the administrative official. There was one national bank in New York City, now out of existence, which made a practice for years of publishing its complete report of condition, inside and outside, in the same form that it was made to the Comptroller, which showed such liabilities.
The next amendment suggested to which objection was made by Mr. Murray was in relation to the failure of national banks to maintain their five per cent, redemption fund with the Treasurer of the United States. It was recommended that the Comptroller be authorized to appoint a receiver for any bank which neglected or refused to make good a deficiency in this fund after due notice.
The Treasurer's office has experienced a great deal of difficulty in the past in getting banks to comply with the law in this respect, and after writing the delinquent banks a number of times, without effect, to make good such deficiency, has had to appeal to the Comptroller in many cases for assistance. The aggregate deficiency due the Treasurer from this source has at times amounted to over forty millions of dollars and has been the cause of a good deal of annoyance.
Mr. Murray was of the opinion that the recommendation that the Comptroller be authorized to appoint a receiver for a bank which persisted in ignoring his demand to make good the deficiency in this fund was too drastic a measure, and suggested a fine of five hundred dollars instead. He apparently did not know or overlooked the fact that the law already authorized the appointment of a receiver under such conditions, but the circumlocution necessary before such action could legally be taken was deemed so detrimental to the interests of the Government that the amendment was suggested as a more direct means of reaching the same result. It was a simple matter to impose a fine on a bank, but not so easy to collect it. A suit and judgment would probably be necessary in some cases, and a receivership to enforce the judgment. Any bank is subject to a receivership on the claim of a creditor reduced to judgment which has remained unsatisfied for a period of thirty days, but the amendment recommended simply contemplated dispensing with the delay and annoyance incident to a process of that nature.
But Mr. Murray had had no experience during his former connection with the Comptroller's office, in handling a situation of this kind, as such questions did not come before him as chief of the organization division, and he did not inform himself, as he should have done, as to the necessity for or the purpose of the amendment proposed before interposing his objections at the hearing before the Monetary Commission.
The suggestion that Section 5223 of the Revised Statutes, relating to the consolidation of national banks, be amended so as to meet the growing difficulties which the Comptroller's office experienced, was also inadvisedly objected to by Mr. Murray, who stated that the old section of the law had always worked satisfactorily so far as he had ever noticed. Banks had been consolidated, he said, for forty years without any friction at all, one liquidating and the other increasing its capital stock. He said he thought the section had worked very well.
There never had been a consolidation of a national bank in the history of the system. There was no provision in the Bank Act for consolidation until the enactment of November 7, 1918, providing for consolidations. Section 5223 of the Revised Statutes, the only section of the law relating to the subject, provided that when an association closed its affairs for the purpose of consolidating with another national bank, it should not be required to deposit lawful money for its outstanding circulation, but its assets and liabilities were required to be reported by the absorbing association.