Tags: Retailers | lobbyists | fees | payments

Retailers' Interchange Play: The 'Ishtar' of Lobbying Campaigns

Retailers' Interchange Play: The 'Ishtar' of Lobbying Campaigns

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Thursday, 26 November 2015 11:22 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Of all of Hollywood's many failed films, "Ishtar" remains one of its most infamous flops. Shot on location in Morocco, the 1987 tale about two lounge singers ran millions over budget.

When audience tests indicated failure, the studio, Columbia, bafflingly doubled down, increasing its ad budget.

The box office numbers were atrocious, and the reviews withering. "Ishtar is a truly dreadful film, a lifeless, massive, lumbering exercise in failed comedy,” Roger Ebert wrote.

I was reminded of this famous failure when reading a new New York Times story about the effort by the retail industry to “leverage” credit card security breaches to help pad their bottom line.

As spelled out in the story, lobbyists for the retail stores are pushing the government to become more involved in the security issue with the hopes that this will provide a convenient legislative or regulatory vehicle for the government to set new, lower price controls on the “interchange fees” the stores pay banks and credit card companies to process payments.

Reminiscent of Columbia's decision to double down on advertising, it takes a special gall to try to seize a problem you created to make more money.

A significant majority of the security breaches, lest you forget, were the result of shoddy security practices at the stores, and it was their cash register software that was exploited by hackers to silently sent millions of Americans' most personal data to terrorists, Russian mobsters and who knows else.

But the retailers' too-clever-by-half campaign is quickly turning into its own flop, as evidenced by the tepid involvement of state attorney general the lobbyists hoped they could lure into helping them.

Organized by former Massachusetts attorney general Martha Coakley, the retailers tried to get the AGs to sign a letter helping their cause, only to find support crumble. After delaying the letter's deadline, they got nine officials to sign, but not before the original organizer, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens (R), abandoned the effort and took his name off of it.

Generally speaking, when it comes to political efforts, it's never a good sign when the face of your campaign drops out.

Coakley, it seems, is about as effective a lobbyist as she is a political candidate, having lost, amazingly, twice to Republicans in statewide races in a place that supported President Obama 61-36.

One key reason the retail lobbyists are having trouble is their peddling a bunk message, arguing that credit cards must require a four-digit PIN in addition to the new computer chips that help encrypt the card number as it is used to process an in-store payment.

As the Times story details, technical experts dismiss this argument and see it transparently for what it is: a bid to confuse the issue and give retailers a talking point – any talking point.

PIN numbers wouldn't have stopped the Target breach, nor the Home Depot breach, nor the Michael's breach, nor any of the many, many other instances where the retailers' computers were hacked.

Meanwhile, credit card companies and banks are generally opposed to PINs because it is an inconvenience to their customers, who typically carry three or four cards in their wallet.

I know I have personally forgotten my PIN, which was a surprisingly annoying experience.

Which brings us back to interchange fees, which the Times explains in detail is the real agenda of this fake new security consciousness. It is a testament to the political juice of the retail lobby they were able to convince the government to set price controls for them in the first place, something that took place in the Dodd-Frank bill.

But it looks like their attempt at a second act is wearing thin. My advice: listen to the warning signs that this is going to be a flop.

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Lobbyists for the retail stores are pushing the government to become more involved in the security issue with the hopes that this will provide a convenient legislative or regulatory vehicle for the government to set new, lower price controls on the “interchange fees”
Retailers, lobbyists, fees, payments
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2015-22-26
Thursday, 26 November 2015 11:22 PM
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