I am continually staggered by the sheer, selfless generosity of the American people.
Every day we are confronted with examples of average people struggling to face this current economic crisis with some measure of dignity and courage.
And then something unimaginably awful happens on a small island thousands of miles from most of our citizens and, as they have done time and time again, the American people step up. By Thursday evening, the American Red Cross had raised more than $35 million for their Earthquake relief fund, including $8 million through an unprecedented text messaging effort propelled by Facebook and Twitter.
According to many relief organizations, while the average donation amount has been lower than in previous international crises, the number of donations has gone up. People may have less to give, but more people than ever are willing to give what they can.
Which is why, after reading reports on the Huffington Post and from other news outlets that some major banks have been taking a cut from donations made through credit cards in the form of a 3% interchange fee, I got mad.
Yesterday, I sent a letter to the major American credit card providers and banks asking them to waive all transaction fees for donations made to relief organizations on behalf of the Haitian earthquake effort. Some, including Visa and Mastercard, stepped up immediately and should be rewarded for that effort by our recognition and support.
I am a pragmatic person. I started and ran two successful businesses in my life before I came to Congress. I try to avoid overheated rhetoric or carte blanche indictments. And I think that companies have a right to make a profit.
But I also think that, in a country where taxpayers had to rush in to bail out big banks just barely over a year ago, where abuses by many of the credit lenders reached such a fever pitch that Congress had to step in and regulate practices just a few short months ago, banks and credit card companies need to apply some level of conscience to their actions.
As any business owner knows, there is a time to be concerned with the bottom line and a time to remember that you have a responsibility to be a good corporate citizen.
American Express announced intentions to waive transaction fees before my letter went out. Shortly after Discover said they would waive some fees. Capitol One is actually the only major credit card provider with a program already in place to waive transaction fees for charitable donations.
We still await word from Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America. My hope is that these providers will follow the example of Capitol One, American Express, Discover, Visa and Mastercard and make sure that every dollar donated to earthquake relief gets directly to the people of Haiti.
Before I came to Congress I served as the chairman of our local food bank. Non-profit organizations that serve those in distress do a tremendous service to our world community and are not often in a position to advocate for business practices that would help them do their job better. And that is where the rest of us, especially those of us elected to serve in Congress, must step in.
(Cross-posted from The Huffington Post)