Drug Reform Groups Win $25,000 Facebook Contest, Get Rejected by Chase Bank

When Chase Bank announced a vote-based $5 million charitable give-away on Facebook, you can imagine the excitement that erupted among cash-strapped non-profits and their supporters. The idea was to let the public vote and decide democratically what charities deserve a little extra support in a tough economy. The top 100 vote-getters in the first round were to receive $25,000 each, and as you'd expect, drug policy groups performed quite well.

Unfortunately, Chase Bank didn't approve of some of the winners, so they changed the rules:

At least three nonprofit groups — Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the Marijuana Policy Project and an anti-abortion group, Justice for All— say they believe that Chase disqualified them over concerns about associating its name with their missions.

The groups say that until Chase made changes to the contest, they appeared to be among the top 100 vote-getters.

"They never gave us any indication that there was any problem with our organization qualifying," said Micah Daigle, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. "Now they’re completely stonewalling me." [NYT]

Clearly, Chase entered into this without fully appreciating the political implications of using new media as the centerpiece of a philanthropic PR campaign. The whole episode is now reminiscent of the public votes at Obama's Change.gov website, in which legalizing marijuana repeatedly became the most popular policy idea. If you go out of your way to give the public a voice, sometimes you'll be surprised by what you hear. But isn’t that the point?

Of course, neither Chase Bank, nor the White House, bear any legal obligation to honor the political ideals they've solicited from the public. But that's not the issue here. The whole purpose of an online vote is, rather obviously, to create the appearance of genuine fairness, to let the people decide for themselves what matters most (as Chase boasted proudly in the contest's motto: “You Decide What Matters”). By arbitrarily overturning the results, Chase irrevocably tarnishes the fundamental concept behind their effort and trivializes the exact public values the program was intended to respect and uphold.

By daring to reject drug policy organizations who'd obviously won the contest, Chase Bank sends an unambiguous message of disrespect to our movement. If they think this issue is politically volatile, they're absolutely right, but they picked the wrong side. Fixing our drug laws has become one of most prominent struggles at this moment in American politics, and it's a debate you can't simply opt out of while simultaneously draping yourself in the flag of online democracy.

If we're powerful enough to win in a fair fight, that means we can also burn those who cheat us. Our friends at SSDP won't be patronizing Chase Bank anytime soon, and I hope you'll join them.
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Email to Chase

Here's what I wrote them:

I am very disappointed in Chase's underhanded decision to disqualify Students for a Sensible Drug Policy and the Marijuana Policy Project from your Chase Community Giving contest. Aside from simply looking smarmy, you are giving the public the impression that you support racially disproportionate arrest and sentencing for drug crimes, destruction of our national forests through illegal planting of marijuana, and the atrocious prohibition-related violence plaguing Mexico. Is this what Chase supports?

Please help us boycott!

Make sure you also join over 1,000 people (and quickly growing) in boycotting Chase Bank. Once you sign up, you'll receive a phone number you can use to call Chase and [politely] explain why you'll never use their services!

Make sure your concerns are heard!

Irina Alexander
Pres, University of Maryland SSDP
Students for Sensible Drug Policy Board of Directors

borden's picture

it's actually even worse

Unfortunately, the problems with what Chase appears to have done go beyond the philosophical ones that Scott pointed out. If Chase had had an approval process for participating in the contest, and not allowed drug reform groups to participate from the outset, that would have been their choice to make. We might not like that choice, but it would be their right to make it.

Instead they let the groups take their time, possibly money, and worst of all the time and enthusiasm of tens of thousands of their supporters, to take part in and spread the word about this contest. Every email these groups sent out meant that they couldn't send a different email out on that day or even that week asking people to donate or take some other action. The emails they sent to promote this contest also meant less attention paid to other emails they send, because that's the way email blasts work, there are limits to how much attention you can get from most people. So they didn't just not win money they might deserve, they incurred a cost.

For those reasons my view is Chase owes them that money. If they want to accompany it with an announcement that they are providing the cash only to correct a mistake they made and that their will be more restrictive vetting of groups in advance next time, they could do that.

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network
Washington, DC

Chase Bank Blues

Personally, this does not surprise me at all nor should it anyone else ever involved with Chase Bank. "Fair play" simply is not in the bank's rule book. Chase, as is true of other big banking instituitions, owns our government policy makers and is accustomed to pulling the rug out from their own clients...nevermind the public at large. If you're a drug cartel organization and not a drug reform group, no worries...Chase will be there for you.

Take them to court

Someone should take them to court and expose this sham to the public. Win or lose I'm sure they would love the publicty.

Already e-mailed them

And signed the petition at SSDP,

If I was in any way shape or form capable, I'd be refinancing my mortgage tomorrow. In any event, it's at the top of my list of personal financial changes to make, and I made sure they know it.

Closed my chase bank account:

Friends and family are doing the same. Others soon to join. Boycott in progress. It worked against kelloggs and will work against chase bank.

I still won't buy Kelloggs...

Kinda sucks really.....

But still worth my freedom though!

borden's picture

I still avoid Kellogg's

I still avoid Kellogg's products too.

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network
Washington, DC

Chase Bankster Tricks

It’s strange how drug prohibition ends up affecting a person’s life.  I guess this means I’ll relocate my safe deposit box.  It’s just as well.  When Chase bought the bank building, they instituted a $50 penalty if a safe deposit box rent payment is late.  I never had a bank do that before.

At least it’s not as bad as one guy I knew who fought Chase Banksters for 18 months over a $2000 mistake made by the bank in crediting his mortgage payment.  The bank lost the money somehow, which meant the mistake cost them personally. Chase stalled until the very day of a deadline set by a bank regulator to close them down if they didn’t correct the error.


Chase is part of JPMorgan, put the whole company on the list

of bad boys, right next to the clowns at Kellogg's who had no problem with Phelps' drunk driving, only with his use of cannabis.

People are leaving chase in droves!

The boycott is working!

They are pirates.

Chase recently raised my interest charge to 23.99%! And I always pay on time! This means that my account is about to be transfered to another bankster. I'm advising my friends to do the same. Even if Chase were to capitulate, I'm never going back, screw 'em.


I think I have been seeing advertisements on TV where President Obama is complaining about "some credit card companies are charging interest rates above 20%, even if you pay on time" Wasn't Chase one of the banks that he and the other politicians bailed out? His little TV ad seems to show some hypocrisy!

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