Voting: today and everyday!

One of the great things about living in a democracy is that you get to vote — and not just today at the polls, though of course you should do that. You also get to vote with your pocketbook — something that I practice assiduously.

I was reminded of this the other day when I went to make a big purchase at a store on St. Armand’s Circle — an $18 pair of earrings. I whipped out my American Express (AEX) card and was told, politely, but firmly, that the store doesn’t take American Express. While I do keep a different card for just such occasions, I’ve also often walked away many times figuring that the store doesn’t want my money enough to let me pay the way I choose to pay. My guess is that if those earrings had cost $1,800 or $18,000 — after all, this is St. Armand’s — they probably would have been willing to accept whatever card I handed them.

What’s an annoyance to me and, I’m guessing hundreds if not thousands of others, appears to have caught the attention of the Department of Justice, judging by the 10Q that Mastercard International (MA) filed a short time ago. In the filing, the company notes a new investigation by DOJ that was launched on Oct. 10:

On October 10, 2008, the Antitrust Division of the DOJ issued a CID to MasterCard and other payment industry participants seeking information regarding certain rules relating to merchant acceptance, particularly with respect to merchants— ability to steer customers to payment forms preferred by merchants. The CID seeks documents, data and narrative responses to several interrogatory and document requests which focus on reasons merchants may have decreased their acceptance of certain cards, information on penetration rates by merchant category, co-brand cards and transactions in various countries.

In a democracy, people don’t just get to vote for whomever they want today. They also get to vote with their wallets and pocketbooks too.