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How Working Assets Funds the Left
By John Perazzo

Established in 1985, Working Assets is a company that provides more than 300,000 customers across the United States with long-distance telephone services, wireless telephone services, and credit cards. Out of the revenues it earns in each of those three areas, Working Assets gives a percentage to a host of leftwing groups and causes.

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."

Working Assets is a member organization of the
United For Peace and Justice antiwar coalition and the Win Without War antiwar coalition. Strongly opposed to the War in Iraq, in November 2005 Working Assets published an online report founded on the premise that George W. Bush had deliberately twisted American intelligence about pre-war Iraq's weapons-production capabilities in order to justify an unnecessary and immoral invasion. "There is no graver crime than to mislead a country into war, and then lie to cover it up," said Working Assets. ". . . This case has always been about the Bush Administration's brazen efforts to mislead the American public into supporting the invasion of Iraq. . . . This isn't a failed real estate deal or a stained blue dress [references to the Whitewater and Lewinsky scandals of former President Bill Clinton] -- this is the national security of the United States. Thousands have already died, with more to come." As of mid-November 2005, an accompanying Working assets petition condemning the President's prosecution of the Iraq War had garnered more than 36,000 signatures.

Working Assets has also produced a letter (for which it had collected some 30,000 signatures as of November 2005) titled "
Congress: Admit You Regret Voting for Iraq War." "Knowing what we know now," reads the letter, "I regret voting to give President Bush a blank check to invade Iraq. 'I was wrong.' These words can be the most difficult for a politician to say. Why haven't our elected representatives joined the American people, who now say in poll after poll that it was a mistake to invade Iraq? . . . Our elected leaders cannot address the blunt truths about the disastrous occupation of Iraq until they speak out publicly, admit they were fed falsehoods, and say they regret giving Mr. Bush the power to invade."

Just as Working Assets, which is a member organization of the
Peace and Security Funders Group, condemns the Iraq War, so does it stand in strong opposition to numerous aspects of the Patriot Act anti-terrorism legislation, which it views as an assault on the civil liberties of Americans.

While Working Assets has been silent about the horrors of beheadings and suicide bombings perpetrated by America's Islamist enemies in the Middle East, the organization has had a great deal to say about the much-publicized 2004 prisoner-abuse scandal at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison; it has also accused the U.S. of having abused the war-on-terror detainees incarcerated at
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A piece contributed to the Working Assets website by Sojourners -- an evangelical Christian ministry that preaches radical leftist politics, embraces liberation theology, and championed Communist revolution in Central America -- asserts the following:

"A few short years ago, almost no one in America had heard of places called Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Now, those names have become infamous worldwide - for repeated instances of torture, inflicted by Americans on prisoners we continue to hold there as part of the so-called 'war on terror.' In fact, the internationally-respected human rights organization Amnesty International recently referred to Guantanamo as the 'gulag of our times.'"

As evidenced by the foregoing statement and the placement of sneer quotes around the term "war on terror," Working Assets views that war as an illegitimate enterprise amounting to nothing more than a phony pretext for American empire-building and overseas aggression. Moreover, Working Assets is comfortable with Amnesty International's characterization of America's treatment of a few hundred Guantanamo detainees -- many of whom are hardened killers from the
al Qaeda network, and none of whom have died in U.S. custody -- as the equivalent of the Soviet gulag system responsible for the enslavement, starvation, and systematic extermination of millions of innocent, unarmed civilians, including women and children.

In its quest to help solidify the power base of the political left, in 2003 Working Assets conducted a large-scale voter-registration campaign in conjunction with field partners such as
Project Vote, the USAction Education Fund, and the NAACP National Voter Fund. By September 2004, these organizations had met their goal of registering one million voters before Election Day (which would be in November).

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."

In 2001, Working Assets started an online philanthropy website called
GiveForChange.com, which provided a forum wherein taxpayers could unburden themselves of the tax rebate checks they had received as a result of President Bush's income tax cuts. Working Assets collected these funds, matched them dollar-for-dollar, and then redirected them to leftwing organizations all over the United States. "Thousands of citizens see the tax-cut check for what it is -- a shameless political ploy," said Working Assets founder, President, and Chief Executive Officer Michael Kieschnick. "We offer the public a vehicle to turn President Bush's irresponsible tax cut into positive action. For those who can afford it, we give taxpayers the perfect opportunity to redirect money -- to groups they choose -- fighting Bush's skewed agenda."

Prior to his current position, Mr. Kieschnick served as Working Assets' Chairman of the Board while he helped to start a series of investment funds. He has written several books on capital markets and development, including Credit Where It's Due (which he co-authored with Julia Parzen). For a number of years, he was a visiting lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, teaching a graduate seminar on financial innovation. He is currently a Board member for two nonprofit organizations -- the American Environmental Safety Institute, and Dads & Daughters. The latter, operating from the planted axiom that American society is sexist and engages in the wholesale devaluation of females, is "
an education and advocacy group for fathers and daughters that strives to eliminate cultural messages that value daughters more for how they look than who they are."

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