As a "kitchen-table guerrilla" in the 1970s, Charlotte Newton used to work with other consumer advocates on creative ways to protest policies they considered unfair.
But as a new member of the Federal Reserve Board's Consumer Advisory Council, Ms. Newton no longer needs a picket sign to make a point.
As MasterCard International's vice president of consumer affairs, Ms. Newton said she hopes to be a bridge between consumers and lenders, particularly card issuers.
"I see myself touching base with our members to ensure that I represent their interests," Ms. Newton said. But "a large part of my perspective is shaped by when I talk with consumers, when I meet with consumer activists."
Ms. Newton is the first bank card association executive named to the council, which was created by Congress in 1976 to advise the Federal Reserve Board on its responsibilities under the Consumer Credit Protection Act.
She is one of 14 newcomers appointed in January to the 30-member council, which meets three times a year.
Since joining MasterCard in 1995, Ms. Newton has been in the middle of the debate over debit card liability. She advocated protection for consumers from debit card charges they did not incur. MasterCard and its members last July capped liability at $50.
Working with the Washington-based consumer group Call For Action, Ms. Newton helped launch a MasterCard debit education campaign. Under her leadership, MasterCard also recently published a primer for parents called "Kids, Cash, Plastic, and You."
"I think the Federal Reserve invitation to participate is in part recognition of" MasterCard's work in consumer affairs, she said.
Ms. Newton, who lives in Springfield, Va., said she began her consumer activism in 1974 because of her "interest in the underdog."
She played a part in a Virginia Citizens Consumer Council campaign that resulted in the Supreme Court decision overturning state prohibitions on drug advertising. She served as president of the organization in 1979 and 1980.
A protest against high meat prices attracted the most attention. Ms. Newton and her colleagues drove a beefsteak in an armored car to Capitol Hill. The message, she said, was that the steak was too valuable to be transported unprotected.
Before joining MasterCard, Ms. Newton's career included a one-year stint as a stockbroker with Dean Witter and seven years with public affairs firms, where her clients were in financial services.
She has also served as executive director of the Council of Better Business Bureaus Foundation and was the first director of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. She was a founder of the National Coalition of Consumer Education.
Today, in addition to the Federal Reserve's consumer panel, Ms. Newton serves as vice chairwoman of the National Consumers League, the oldest U.S. consumer advocacy organization. She is also co-chairwoman of the corporate relations committee of the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators.
"I have seen over the past 25 years a tremendous effort on the part of the private sector to educate consumers," Ms. Newton said.
Some of the changes, she said, have resulted from threats of regulation and legislation. Others sprang from "the realization on the part of the private sector that informed consumers make good choices."