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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Merchants launch new interchange offensive

The Merchants Payments Coalition launched a fresh attack on bankcard interchange in hopes of garnering support for federal legislation, although the group has yet to offer details regarding the legislation it desires.

The opening salvo came with the inaugural airing of a 30-second television spot titled "Next Domino." The ad compares "predatory lending" in the form of credit cards with the subprime mortgage crisis. It closes by urging viewers to contact their representatives in the U.S. Congress. "Tell them they can't fix our nation's credit card problems without reforming the biggest fee of all – interchange," the ad's announcer exhorts.

More ads coming your way

The ad is one of several the MPC is paying to broadcast in the run-up to congressional votes on credit card reform legislation. Proposals pending in both the U.S. House (HR 627, the Credit Cardholder's Bill of Rights Act of 2009) and the U.S. Senate (SB 414, the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act, or the Credit CARD Act) would address controversial card-issuer practices, such as excessive interest rate charges.

The Senate Banking Committee is voting on the Credit CARD Act today; a House Financial Services Committee vote is scheduled for HR 627 on April 1, 2009. Neither bill mentions interchange reform, although Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn, who introduced SB 414 into the Senate along with Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., has expressed concerns about interchange assessments.

The MPC aims to raise similar concerns with a group of newly elected members of Congress who have been seated on the House Financial Services Committee. It's already made a "six-figure ad buy" of broadcast ad time, according to Hank Armour, Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of Convenience Stores, an MPC member group.

Main Street and consumers first

"We don't think we can fix the economic crisis without addressing the incentives behind irresponsible credit card lending by reforming the interchange fee system and addressing this unfair burden on American small businesses and consumers," Armour said during a March 30, 2009, press briefing announcing the MPC's new campaign. "Start our economic recovery by protecting Main Street businesses and American consumers, not big banks and credit card companies."

Representatives of MPC member groups haven't been specific about what new legislation they believe should be enacted; they just want Congress to take action. "This is a grass-roots campaign to let everyone know just how expensive these cards are [for retailers to accept] and to see if we can get some kind of reform," said Mallory Duncan, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the National Retail Federation.

The Electronic Transactions Association, meanwhile, is rallying its members to call their elected officials in Washington "for a showing of grass-roots support for the ETA's position to leave interchange alone," according to a March 30 e-mail alert.

The ETA said it especially needs people from the following states to present this message to their members of Congress: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia.

The MPC ads – which, in addition to television, will be placed with radio, print and Internet outlets – are directed specifically at these members of the House: Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.; Rep. Travis Childers, D-Miss.; Rep. Bill Foster D-Ill.; Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-Pa.; Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn.; Rep. Paul Hodes, D-N.H.; Rep. Dan Maffei, D-N.Y.; and Rep. Walt Minnick, D-Idaho. end of article

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