Foes of swipe-fee deal look to Congress

  • Article by: JENNIFER BJORHUS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 20, 2012 - 11:09 PM

Retailers' groups said a settlement proposal doesn't fix problems.

Retailers opposing the proposed $7.25 billion antitrust settlement over credit card fees with Visa, MasterCard and major national banks are turning to Congress for help.

In a letter sent to House and Senate leaders Thursday, major retail trade associations said the agreement fails to fix inherent problems with the credit card transactions business and is a bad deal for merchants and their customers.

"[The deal] enables continued centralized price-fixing by Visa and MasterCard," according to the letter, signed by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and eight other retail trade groups.

The effort to engage Congress is another sign of what appears to be mounting merchant backlash against the complicated pact that was announced in early July and would apply to millions of retailers around the country. Target and Wal-Mart have spoken out against the deal.

If approved, the historic settlement would cap a seven-year legal battle with roots in Minnesota over alleged price-fixing on credit card transaction fees. The settlement requires approval of U.S. District Judge John Gleeson in Brooklyn, N.Y. A hearing hasn't been set. The NRF, which is not a named plaintiff, already said it intends to try to go to court to block the deal.

The Minneapolis lawyer representing the merchants whose lawsuit started the long legal battle said the letter campaign is more Washington politics.

"We think the settlement is the right thing for the class and that the criticisms are unfounded," said K. Craig Wildfang with Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi. "What's become really crystal clear is that they have no alternatives."

Wildfang said his office is getting hundreds of calls and e-mails from merchants asking questions and seeking to participate in the settlement. He said he is close to filing the motion for preliminary approval of the deal, noting that the hearing will probably be in late November or early December.

NRF spokesman Craig Shearman said in an interview that the goal in writing Congress was to make sure members of Congress understand that the proposal doesn't settle the battle over rising swipe fees.

"One of the key elements of the proposed settlement is a provision that would bar all merchants -- including those not a party to the lawsuit and those that have not even been established yet -- from ever again suing Visa or MasterCard over swipe fees," Shearman said.

If the settlement is approved with that provision, Congress could be the only avenue retailers have for addressing swipe fees, he said.

Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683

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