Music mogul Russell Simmons has emerged as one of the most recognizable figures to throw his weight behind the Occupy Wall Street protests. But as of late, he has also come under fire for what some have called competing interests: raising one fist as a champion of the 99 percent, but with the other hand, selling what some have called a "false bill of goods" with his RushCard, a pre-paid credit card marketed to low-income clients that charges a number of usage fees.
"He is officially part of the one percent," said Ryan Mack, president of the Optimum Institution for Economic Empowerment and one of the RushCard's most vocal critics. "You can go down and chant all you want. But when you are home, and you have a product that pimps the 99 percent, how can you justify chanting during the day but your actions at night are out of line?"
Mack provided a detailed account of the fees incurred by RushCard users on a recent blog. Simmons has also been publicly called to task during a recent Occupy Wall Street protest.
But in an exclusive open letter delivered to The Huffington Post this morning, Simmons rebuts his critics' claims.
"The oldest trick in the book of dirty political tactics and smear campaigns is to attack the supporters of a group by using misdirection, and even lying about someone's motives," Simmons writes in the letter, titled "An Open Letter To The 100 Percent." "This is happening to me for my support of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement and its related offshoots around the country."
With all the negative attention and the "ridiculous names I get called on a daily basis, I can't help but smile," he said, "knowing, 'Yep, I'm doing something right!'"
Read the full text of the letter below:
An Open Letter to the 100 Percent
By Russell Simmons
The oldest trick in the book of dirty political tactics and smear campaigns is to attack the supporters of a group by using misdirection, and even lying about someone's motives. This is happening to me for my support of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement and its related offshoots around the country. Quite honestly, I wear it as a badge of honor. It means the movement is hitting a nerve, and that some in power are scared.
My personal and professional life is about putting the spotlight on disenfranchised communities and welcoming their voices into the mainstream: in music, fashion, comedy, poetry and more recently in financial services and the Internet. I look for fundamental opportunities to positively impact the status quo and create a new and more inclusive mainstream that represents ALL -- not just the 99 percent or the one percent. Obviously people can be deathly scared of and resist change or the unknown, but every time I read the ridiculous names I get called on a daily basis I can't help but smile ... knowing, yep, I'm doing something right!
I've been a supporter of OWS since its inception because I BELIEVE it is fighting for the core values of empowerment -- the very idea which serves as a pillar for each of my businesses.
Now, like many did with rap music before it, critics of OWS are attacking RushCard, which pioneered the prepaid debit card industry seven years ago. For years I heard from mothers, children in tow, waiting in lines for their paychecks, then in more lines to expensively cash those paychecks, then in even more lines to pay their bills. Truth be told, these Americans couldn't afford the "minimum deposit levels" required by large banks to avoid monthly account maintenance fees. Historically, large numbers of these customers incurred overdraft and "insufficient funds" fees on a far-too-regular basis -- and many of these customers are now simply regarded by the banks as being "unprofitable." For the majority of these folks, there is simply is no alternative: no credit card to be approved for, and no bank offering a reasonable set of fees in their neighborhoods.
Banks are not evil -- we could all stand to make sure we live within our means, manage our spending, and avoid unnecessary high-interest charges when we can. I created a prepaid card so that EVERYONE can experience financial empowerment. NO ONE would have to experience the humiliation or the defeat that comes with being turned down for what many of us take for granted -- a secure way to spend and save our money. RushCard provides a full-service platform for those seeking smart alternatives to a traditional banking relationship, and most importantly, our customers cannot go into debt!
RushCard is not a cookie-cutter no-frills payment solution, but a financial management platform offering budgeting tools, money transfer services, automatic mobile text alerts and many other valuable services like prescription discount plans -- all available to benefit the millions who have been turned away, or are afraid they might be -- by traditional banking institutions.
As some of my critics would rightly point out, what about the thousands of credit unions and local banks across the country that are here to help?
Well, what about them is what I would say! I've never been in the business of comparing apples to oranges or misleading customers, which is why I don't hide from saying that prepaid cards have fees, but we do not charge overdraft fees and our members cannot go into debt. Moreover, community banks across the country are not designed with the infrastructure that is needed to truly handle everyone. And oftentimes, our customers do not have access to credit unions, which can still decline potential customers due to their financial standing. At RushCard, we are built to manage everyone and we don't say no to you -- that's part of our brand. You never have to go into debt to be a good customer with us.
Every day I wake up asking how we can do more for less. Every day I meet with partners who want to add something to the most enduring brand in the prepaid business. Every day, on the road, I meet regular people who tell me that our prepaid card helped them get their dignity back. Eventually, the RushCard revolution will use the strength in numbers that comes from our growing base to get deals from retailers who value our customers' business, which we can then pass on to our consumers.
So I write this in admiration of the 60 million underbanked and unbanked Americans who are fighting to survive, the millions of Americans fighting to remain middle class, the millions unnecessarily waiting in long lines at their local check cashing place only to pay inordinately high fees, and the hundreds of positive RushCard testimonials we've received over the years.
I will continue to fight this fight, provide a voice for the voiceless and seek ways to provide financial freedom to those in need. As I have said in the past, there's only one thing that will always steer you toward success: that's to have a vision and to stick with it. I'm not going to be silenced -- I will continue to ride this vision until the wheels come off.
Russell Simmons is Chairman of Rush Communications, Chairman and Founder of RushCard, Founder of GlobalGrind.com and Author of "Super Rich," a bestselling book on how to achieve mental and spiritual richness.