Politico and arbitration: do as I say, not as I do

arbitration

I was thrilled, just thrilled, when I got an e-mail from Politico on Aug. 18 inviting me to be a “Politico Insider”. I mean, I love reading, writing and talking about politics.

“We are creating an exclusive online community of plugged-in politicos to share their opinions — off the record, of course! As a political influencer, we greatly value your input,” the message said.

The Politico message really pumped me up:

“When you become a POLITICO Insider, you’ll get to:

  • Join an exclusive community of influencers who are passionate about the intersection of politics, policy, and power
  • Participate in surveys to share your ideas and opinions with us
  • Compare your opinions to those of other influencers

But then, well into the sign-up process, I reviewed the “Terms and Conditions” section.

That’s when these items caught my eye:

THIS TERMS OF SERVICE AGREEMENT INCLUDES A CLASS ACTION WAIVER AND A WAIVER OF JURY TRIALS, AND REQUIRES BINDING ARBITRATION ON AN INDIVIDUAL BASIS TO RESOLVE MOST DISPUTES.

Scope of Arbitration Agreement. You agree that any dispute or claim against POLITICO LLC, or its affiliates, subsidiaries, owners, officers, directors, employees, agents or represenatives relating in any way to your access or use of the Site, to any products or services sold or distributed through the Site, or to any other aspect of your relationship with POLITICO LLC will be resolved by binding arbitration, rather than in court…”

The arbitration section’s legalese went on for 1055 words, emphasizing: “Waiver of Jury Trial. YOU AND POLITICO LLC WAIVE ANY CONSTITUTIONAL AND STATUTORY RIGHTS TO SUE IN COURT AND RECEIVE A JUDGE OR JURY TRIAL..

Binding arbitration? I can’t sue Politico in court? I can’t get a judge or jury trial for a dispute? I can’t sue Politico as part of a class-action lawsuit with other aggrieved Politico Insiders. Wait just a damn minute!

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) last year issued a detailed report on arbitration clauses and has proposed a rule covering many financial products and services.

The CFPB noted that class-action suits tend to provide greater renumeration than other routes of seeking restitution, and that “larger numbers of consumers are eligible for financial redress through class-action settlements than through arbitration or individual lawsuits.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which asserts it is focused on defending civil liberties in the digital world, calls binding arbitratin clauses “…appalling…unfair, one-sided contracts.”

“For most customers, trading litigation for arbitration is a bad deal,” the Foundation says. “When the customer has no negotiating power, arbitration is inherently biased in favor of the vendor.”

Interestingly, Politico itself has railed against binding arbitration in its “The Agenda” section in an article headlined:

“End forced arbitration. Big business has been exploiting consumers for too long. It’s time for regulators to crack down.”

“For more than a quarter century, Big Business has engaged in a stealth campaign to block consumers, employees and small businesses harmed by corporate lawbreakers from finding justice in a court of law,” Politico said. “Buried in the fine print of countless contracts for everyday goods and services is language that bars people from holding corporations accountable in court for illegal, and sometimes dangerous, conduct. Instead, individuals are forced to take on companies in an unfair, privatized system of arbitration — a process that tilts heavily in favor of the arbitrator’s corporate benefactors.”

It’s time for Politico to be hoisted with its own petard.

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