How Working Assets Funds the Left
Working Assets explains that in an effort to fulfill its self-defined mission - "to help busy people make a difference in the world through everyday activities like talking on the phone" - every time a customer uses one of its donation-linked services (long distance, wireless and credit card), "the company donates a portion of the charges to nonprofit groups working to build a world that is more just, humane, and environmentally sustainable." (Fully 1 percent of its customers' telephone charges are earmarked for leftwing nonprofits; and each time a customer uses his or her Working Assets credit card to make a purchase of any kind, the company donates 10 cents to what it terms "groups working for peace, human rights, economic justice, education & the environment.") These donations, the company explains, "come from the top line (sales), not bottom-line (profits), therefore donations are made whether or not Working Assets makes a profit."
Working Assets funds leftwing groups whose activities fall under any of these five categories: Peace & International Freedom; Education & Freedom of Expression; Environment; Economic & Social Justice; and Civil Rights. In 2004 its aggregate donations totaled $7 million. From its 1985 inception through 2005, the company has raised more than $47 million for what it terms "progressive causes." The process of deciding who will receive these funds is initiated by Working Assets' customers, who nominate groups they deem worthy of financial support. Once the nominations have been made, the company's employees and board members narrow the field of recipients to fifty groups. In turn, the customers vote to determine how the available money will be apportioned among those fifty.
Recent recipients of Working Assets funding include: Africa Action; the American Friends Service Committee; Doctors Without Borders; Global Fund for Children; Global Fund for Women; Human Rights Watch; International Medical Corps; Ipas -- Global Reproductive Health & Rights; the Ploughshares Fund; the Union of Concerned Scientists; Women for Women International; the American Library Association; the American Progress Action Fund; Democracy Now!; Free Press; the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN); Independent Press Association; Media Matters for America; the National Center for Science Education; the National Coalition Against Censorship; the Public Education Network; the Coral Reef Alliance; Earthjustice; ForestEthics; the Global Greengrants Fund; Greenpeace International; the International Rivers Network; the Natural Resources Defense Council; the Oil & Gas Accountability Project; the Organic Consumers Association; the Rainforest Action Network; the Rocky Mountain Institute; ACORN; the Center for Policy Alternatives; the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; the Drug Policy Alliance; the FamiliesUSA Foundation; the National Coalition for the Homeless; the National Employment Law Project; Oxfam America; the Project on Government Oversight; Wellstone Action; the American Civil Liberties Union; the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy; Americans United for Separation of Church and State; the Center for Constitutional Rights (a pro-Castro organization); the Children's Defense Fund; the Feminist Majority Foundation; Human Rights Campaign; the NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation; People for the American Way; the Planned Parenthood Federation of America; and Project Vote.
Because of its candidly partisan nature, Working Assets takes a stand on many contemporary political and social issues. For example, it strongly opposes oil exploration in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an endeavor it says "won't bring down gas prices or move our energy policy towards sustainability [but will, however,] boost oil company profits and wipe out the Refuge's wildlife -- as well as the Native Alaskans whose culture depends on that wildlife." "[I]ndustrial development of the Arctic Refuge will devastate the wildlife that depends on this natural area for survival," Working Assets elaborates. "Also sacrificed on the altar of oil company profits will be the Gwich'in people, native Alaskans who have depended upon the Porcupine River caribou herd for literally thousands of years." In an effort to galvanize public support for its position, the company has issued a "Call To Action" exhorting its customers to "[t]ell your representative and senators to oppose any budget reconciliation bill that opens the Arctic Refuge to oil drilling."
In April 2004, thousands of Working Assets customers represented their company by participating in the "March for Women's Lives" in Washington, DC, a historic pro-abortion rights event advocating that women be granted unrestricted access to taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand. For its members who were among the one million people in attendance that day, Working Assets provided what it described as "provocative signs on recyclable paper . . . to send a message of solidarity to the White House for a woman's right to choose." In recognition of its stance on unfettered, government-funded abortion, Working Assets has received the Planned Parenthood Federation of America's "Maggie Award" -- named after Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger -- "for its support of reproductive health and rights issues."
To strengthen its political leverage, Working Assets has set up a pair of vehicles by which its likeminded customers can also make their voices and opinions heard by House and Senate legislators. One of these vehicles is the Working Assets Citizen Action program, established in 1991 "to provide customers with timely information and easy ways to speak out on important issues." With each monthly phone bill, the company includes action alerts highlighting two crucial national issues and five state issues that are the subjects of contemporary debate; these action alerts explain what is (in Working Assets' estimation) at stake, and tell customers which political leaders they should contact in an effort to influence policy in a manner consistent with what Working Assets prescribes. In 2004 alone, Working Assets action alerts resulted in more than four million telephone calls, letters, and e-mails to Congress, the White House, and corporate leaders.
Four years after establishing Citizen Action, Working Assets created the Flash Activist Network (FAN), which it describes as "a rapid response program designed to give customers a chance to speak out on fast-moving issues before all is said and done." "Throughout the year," Working Assets explains, "FAN monitors critical events as they unfold and notifies members by phone, fax or e-mail when it's time for action. Members can call a toll-free number for details on the issues at hand, then be transferred directly to the targeted decision-maker, or send a personalized fax. . . . For a low monthly fee, FAN members can influence public policy before it's too late."
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