As many of you are probably aware, BuyBlue started based on an idea over at DailyKos.com. Any time there was a discussion about credit cards either on that web site or ours it was inevitable that Working Assets came up as an alternative. It was also equally inevitable that numerous people would disagree with that recommendation because the credit card product offered by Working Assets was underwritten by MBNA, arguably one of the worst offenders in the credit industry.
Working Assets has been recommended in the past to members of MoveOn.org's mailing list and we rated them as 100% blue on our web site due to political contributions made by their executives. A lot of people still questioned the relationship with MBNA and rightly so.
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When our web site started offering the ability to email companies where we had an email address on file, people would often forward those emails back to us after a company had responded. Many supporters of buying blue put the question "why use MBNA?" to Working Assets and they generally received the standard PR answer.
If you take a look at our FAQ page and read our Vision Statement, it really sums up how we saw our role here. One of the things we hope to do is be the voice of consumers and deal directly with companies and open a dialog with them on various issues which might concern our community. However, this doesn't happen unless the community speaks loud enough for the company to pay attention.
You did exactly that with Working Assets - we first received a letter from them in April. We sent them a letter back in response and we also laid out the concerns that many of you have voiced to us. I subsequently had a phone conversation with Working Assets President Michael Kieschnick.
Mr. Kieschnick recently sent me something via email for publication meant to help explain the situation with MBNA and I wanted to share that letter with everyone.
First, it bears noting that Working Assets sees itself as a progressive social change organization - not as a partisan company. We look at the world through issues and organizing. During the last election cycle, we were very active in nonpartisan ways - we registered well over a million new voters and found and placed 20,000 Election Day poll monitors.
Second, we have worked as a company on campaign finance reform for over a decade, and supported the legislation banning corporate soft-dollar campaign contributions (the way that MBNA made many contributions). Some of our employees on their own time and with their own money volunteer and make partisan contributions - I among them - but we as a company do not.
Third, it is the case that our donation-linked credit card is issued by MBNA, a banking organization that has been a leading contributor in many ways to the Republican Party and candidates. Fortunately, our own support of campaign finance reform will prohibit MBNA from using corporate money from making direct contributions, although it will not prohibit their executives from doing so.
We as a company also fought very hard over the years against changes in bankruptcy rules, perhaps the primary legislation goal of MBNA and other large banks.
Fourth, it is worth noting that Working Assets did not select MBNA - MBNA purchased our credit card program from Fleet Bank. Under our agreement, we cannot move the cards to another bank nor force MBNA to sell the portfolio to another bank.
Even though we did not select MBNA and have explicitly opposed their primary legislative agenda, we do believe that our program contributes significantly to progressive social change. Our credit card itself, since inception, has generated about $6 million in donations to progressive causes (all nonpartisan). This is precious money for general operating support that they great nonprofits do not have to raise, freeing them to work on the issues we all care deeply about.
Thanks for your great work at Buyblue - we share your view that millions of consumers care deeply about the implications of their spending and investing, and that knowing more can contribute to social change. I hope you can share some of this additional information as well.
I encourage you to read and comment on this letter, but one of the more important pieces of information is clarification of the relationship with MBNA.
The fact here is that Working Assets doesn't have a choice in this relationship unfortunately. However, based on the feedback they have received from everyone, I would be willing to bet they will take this into account at such time as they can move to a new bank.
Does that answer the question "should I support Working Assets?" The answer: "that is your decision." What we have now is all of the information laid out for everyone to analyze, and we know that our concerns have been taken straight to the top. Now all of us have to make a decision that we find ourselves having to make far too often - which principle is more important?
We hope to continue to develop our relationship with Working Assets and continue to bring our concerns to them. I'll also be forwarding a link to this discussion on to Mr. Kieschnick and I'm pretty sure he'll browse through the comments here. So speak your mind, but play nice.