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Wendy Block Headshot

AT&T -- Not My Credo

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When I hear that AT&T and Verizon are key players with other multinationals and Republican legislators in a so-far obscure group that advances corporate interests and undermines ours, my thoughts turn...shall we say, vehement.

The most recent of these to find itself the focus of keen though undesired media interest is ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), the intentionally nondescript name for a brilliant right-wing enterprise formed to protect the nation's richest 1%. ALEC is the umbrella group of mega-corporate execs, commerce-friendly think tanks and state GOP lawmakers who gather at summits to formulate pro-business, pro-privatization, pro-deregulation and anti-middle/working class policies. These policies are packaged into bills, many of which get pushed through state legislative chambers and enacted into law.

The infamous union-busting bills passed in Wisconsin and Ohio this year are ALEC spawn -- Governors Scott Walker and John Kasich were members. Other ALEC progeny include Arizona's anti-immigration bill and efforts to end EPA regulations, promote school vouchers, privatize prisons, and require voter photo ID.

Funded in part by the Koch brothers, ALEC is a non-profit, tax exempt organization, though Common Cause is challenging that status (we can help).

Reps from AT&T and Verizon serve or have served on ALEC's legislation-generating Private Enterprise Board. Their industry is behind model state bills that oppose: Net Neutrality, mandates requiring warning labels on wireless devices and packaging, and mandated viewer video channel a la carte choice.

My vehement thoughts are not directed at telecom CEOs, who are just relentlessly and predictably pursuing their self-serving agendas. My targets are my passionate progressive buddies who, while working hard for our goals, chip in for AT&T's luxury suites at ALEC summits every time they pay their phone bills to companies other than CREDO.

In case you don't recognize the name, here's the tweet-sized CREDO story. It started in the '80s as Working Assets to help liberal idealists donate money to issues and groups they cared about by buying things they needed anyway. Not only did it contribute a percentage of receipts to left-leaning causes, it refused to give money to right-wing anything.

My first contact was with Working Assets Long Distance, which I joined the second I learned about it. When the company expanded to provide wireless coverage to Southern California, I signed up.

Now, a penny of every dollar on my CREDO invoice goes to such organizations as Abraham Fund , Wellstone Action, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Sierra Club Foundation, and American Foundation for Equal Rights. Groups are nominated by members and 40 are chosen each year. Since 1985, as the company says, "$67 million in change."

To reflect the depth of its progressive beliefs, Working Assets re-named its phone services CREDO, and has built a 1.5 million member CREDO Activist Network. Last year the network -- including me and lots of friends -- emailed, called and visited lawmakers, stood on corners with signs and otherwise demonstrated sufficient support for/opposition to issues and people to influence -- and sometimes change -- international, national and statewide governance.

Like everything else, CREDO is not perfect. It doesn't own cable lines, so it subcontracts with Sprint Nextel. Last year Sprint gave $1000 to Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, plus a bunch of other federal lawmakers from both major parties. Working Assets offers a credit card, which I used until Bank of America started issuing it. I once had BofA credit cards with huge balances. Lesson learned.

The company doesn't offer iPhones (yet). And though I live in a high coverage zone, it's in the hills where service can be spotty (though it's fine in the flats).

But CREDO lets me donate with every monthly payment to some of the most magnificent progressive non-profits in existence. It launches and joins successful campaigns. It alerts me to issues that matter, and helps me take effective action. A bonus -- most of its customer service reps are smart and helpful (Gabe, Tier 2).

When I've referred friends, the company bought out their existing phone contracts so they could switch without penalties. And it rewarded them and me with pints of Ben & Jerry's!

Most important, choosing the only progressive mobile network assures me that my donations are helping the world, not weakening it. When telemarketers hype me with low low monthly costs to join competitors, I ask if they can out-CREDO CREDO. So far, no one has tried.

Maybe some day my iPhone-addicted friends and colleagues will do themselves and their causes a favor by joining the one phone company that supports all their devotion and hard work. Who knows -- iPhones could follow.