Maybe Banks and Credit Card Companies Shouldn’t Be the Arbiters of American Political Activity


t1.12.18 Bob King -- 011318.N.DNT.PROTESTc5 -- Ernesto Burbank (left) of the Navaho Dene Nation and Michael Niemi of Duluth are chained together to a door at Wells Fargo Bank in downtown Duluth to protest the proposed Enbridge pipeline. Bob King /

A modern tactic of the American left is to pressure certain institutions – banks, credit companies, universities, etc. – into suppressing political or social activity they don’t like.

For instance, mobs of campus activists routinely bully administrators into inhibiting, and at times even prohibiting, right-of-center speech. Another example is activists bringing pressure on banks and credit card companies so that they’ll no longer provide financial services to, say, pipeline companies. Or gun shops.

This activity is all legal – the 1st amendment only restricts government efforts to censor, not corporations or private schools – but it’s hardly in keeping with certain notions about liberty our nation aspires to.

Which is why recent comments by Ajay Banga, the CEO of Mastercard, are a breath of fresh air. Asked how he felt about demands that credit card companies deny services to stores which sell guns, he said that sort of thing really isn’t any of his business:

“I actually don’t know whether you’re buying a gun or a diaper in a store,” Banga said at an Economic Club of New York event on Tuesday, adding that Mastercard doesn’t receive information on individual items purchased at a retailer. It would be difficult for Mastercard “to turn off the acceptance of payments at a Walmart that sells bullets and diapers. I don’t know how to do it — I actually don’t know how to do it.”

The Bloomberg article goes on to report that, “he doesn’t believe personal beliefs should dictate how he operates his company’s network. While he personally doesn’t like the proliferation of gun ownership in the U.S., shareholders should lobby to change laws governing those sales rather than going after Mastercard.”

He also said he doesn’t want to be in the business of trying to regulate speech:

Banga’s company also has been criticized by some investors because it allows its cards to be used for payments on websites run by such extremist groups as League of the South, Proud Boys and Stormfront. Mastercard is recommending investors vote against a shareholder proposal that the company’s board form a committee to monitor such relationships.

“This idea that somehow a few people can decide what the rest of society should be allowed to do, or not, even if it’s currently legal, I find that an interesting conundrum to discuss,” Banga is quoted as saying. “Should I allow cards to be used to buy cigarettes? What about alcohol? What about contraceptive devices? Where would you like the line to be drawn, based on whose interpretation of what’s acceptable and not?”

He’s exactly right.

We have a political apparatus in this country through which we regulate social behaviors. Everything from speech to gun ownership to tobacco and alcohol use. We elect representatives to multiple levels of government, and those people make laws the rest of us live by. The debate over the nature and scope of those laws is endless. That’s politics.

But that’s also arena where those issues should be settled. Our friends on the left, who haven’t been terribly successful in making the sort of progress they want in those areas, are now pursuing those ends through other means.

To the detriment of comity and order in our society.

We have a political process to avoid “might makes right” situations.