This Week’s Cartoon: “Great Moments in Astroturf”

I saw a web ad not too long ago that read something like “Stop big government at the cash register! Tell Congress ‘Hands off my wallet!’” (Alas, I can’t find the actual ad online anymore.) These days, any campaign starting with “Hands off!” tends to mean “Stop laws preventing big business from getting its hands on something,” so out of curiosity, I clicked.

It turns out part of the recent financial reform bill passed by the Senate included a provision protecting small merchants from price-gouging by credit card networks. From Sen. Dick Durbin himself:

An estimated $48 billion in swipe fees were charged by credit and debit card networks in 2008 – this money came out of the bottom line of small businesses and consumers across America, and 80% of this money went to just ten large banks… Currently Visa and MasterCard, which control nearly the entire debit card market, set unreasonably high debit interchange fee rates that bear no relation to costs.

You know those little signs at the cash register that say “Purchases under $10 cash only”? Technically, they’re illegal — even though merchants actually lose money when people use plastic for small items. This law would change that, and the big banks are pissed. So they’ve set up a front group called “Consumers Against Retail Discrimination” — C.A.R.D., of course! — to protest this unfair discrimination against poor li’l plastic. Among these oh-so-altruistic “consumer advocates” are Mastercard, Visa, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and many more!

For banks to pull this stunt in this crappy economy, after all the damage they’ve done so far, takes real wontons* — and only a few people seem to be talking about it. So I felt compelled to address it in a cartoon, although I’m afraid the comic barely scratches the surface. Some things just require too much explanation. Oh well.

*Intended as a reference to male or female reproductive organs


  • Tom Schmidt

    Wait a minute now … Isn’t this a Free Market? I thought all those small business owners hate the Big Bad Gubermint interfering in their business! Now it seems they want the nanny state to come to their rescue from the Big Bad Corporations. So which is it? I’m confused. No one’s forcing them to accept credit cards.

    In reality it’s “we want a free market when it’s to our advantage and we want government intervention when it’s not.” That’s the mantra of all business in the United States. Of course, individuals are always subjected to the stringent rules of the free market. No special treatment for us.

  • Jen Sorensen

    Tom, that’s certainly one irony about this — though I’d add we should be mindful of all the small business owners who *aren’t* anti-government nutballs.

  • Tom Schmidt

    Yes, that’s true. The notion of a “free market” is one of my sore points though. Whenever I hear someone bring it up, I recoil since there is no such thing as “the free market” in this country.

    My comment is not really the point of your comic though. To that end I would say that anytime you see corporations fighting for the rights of the consumer, you can be sure that it means they are finding a way to get deeper into your pockets.

  • Jen Sorensen


  • PDHealey

    I just went to the CARD sight and sent the message they wanted, modified as follows:

    I understand that the Senate has recently passed an amendment to the financial reform bill that will have a significant impact on how I use my debit card. I support this legislation, and I would like to explain why.

    I think it’s fair. I also believe retailer claims that consumers will see savings from this legislation.

    Please consider the consequences that this legislation will have on your constituents, and speak out in favor of this amendment becoming law before it is too late. Thank you for considering my views.


  • Jen Sorensen

    PDHealey: Good work!

  • James

    I think the fact those signs are illegal is a crock. Small government or big government, robbery is still robbery.

    Ever since I found out how much my local coffee shop had to pay in credit card bills, I always leave a big enough tip to cover the difference. Sorry, but if I’m enough of a moron not to have cash on me the owner shouldn’t eat it.

  • Michael Welle

    My credit union has a warning to “Stop the Durbin Interchange Act!” They have been a very good financial institution for me, but when they wade into the waters of politics they have gone to far in my opinion.

  • Jen Sorensen

    Michael – That’s interesting to me, because according to Durbin in the link above, “my amendment exempts all banks and credit unions with assets of less than $10 billion dollars from this reasonable debit fee requirement. Over 99 percent of all banks and credit unions in America fall within this exemption.” I wonder what they are objecting to. Even if they are affected by the reforms somehow, that seems like a jerk move.

Jen Sorensen is a nationally-published political cartoonist. She is a 2017 Pulitzer Finalist and recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.