Credo Mobile, a liberal cellphone company, is always on the lookout for ways to poach left-wing customers from AT&T. This year, what could be better than a grinning Michele Bachmann?
So Credo put the Minnesota Republican Congresswoman and 2012 presidential candidate on a flier highlighting her tea party ties and AT&T’s contributions to conservatives in Congress.
“AT&T is a Major Corporate Donor to the Tea Party,” reads the flier, distributed at the liberal Netroots Nation conference last month. “Join America’s only progressive phone company.”
In past campaigns, Credo has evoked other conservative boogeymen — such as Karl Rove, Sean Hannity and Don Blankenship, the former CEO of coal giant Massey Energy — but this appears to be the first time the company has weighed in on electoral politics.
“She’s seen as the leader of the tea party, and the tea party really gets progressives fired up,” a former Credo employee told Roll Call. “They are so loud and so vocal that there needs to be a counter to it.”
Credo’s flier says AT&T gave $386,000 to Bachmann and members of the Tea Party Caucus for the 2010 elections.
According to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, in the 2010 election cycle, political action committees and individuals associated with AT&T gave Bachmann just more than $10,000 of the $3.6 million that they contributed to candidates and political committees. By comparison, AT&T donors gave $77,000 to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and shelled out $36,000 to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
With 110,000 mobile customers, Credo, which resells services it buys from the Sprint network, cannot hope to rival telecom giants AT&T and Verizon. But through shrewd marketing and the support of a re-energized liberal grass roots eager to combat the tea party, the company has secured a niche in the cellphone market and in the progressive community.
“There’s never been a political powerhouse that’s completely funded by an apolitical business operation,” said Charles Chamberlain, political director for Democracy for America, the liberal advocacy group founded by former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. “On the online organizing side, they are one of the biggest out there. ... And to [a] certain extent, they are one of the oldest.”
In 1985, prominent Democratic donor Michael Kieschnick founded the company, then known as Working Assets. It sold credit cards and long-distance telephone service before entering the mobile market in 2000. Unlike other similar progressive groups, Credo has not strived for media stardom. Kieschnick, who rarely speaks to reporters, declined to be interviewed for this article.