Howard Schultz encourages a campaign boycott

Aug 16, 2011 Published under Innovation, Leadership, United States

Frustrated by our governments “lack of cooperation and irresponsibility among elected officials,” Howard Schultz emailed his team about how Starbucks can alleviate the current uncertain times.  But he is not stopping there, according to an article in the New York Times.  Schultz has called for a campaign boycott that he hopes will captivate our elected officials attention, and focus them towards creating jobs.  This step of leadership is exactly what our country needs at this time, and we are proud to be able to call ourselves his partner.

Spotted by Daniel Lubetzky, by Adeena Schlussel

August 12, 2011

Boycott Campaign Donations!


Howard Schultz, the chairman and chief executive of Starbucks, has always been the kind of boss who wears his heart on his sleeve. So it came as no surprise to Starbucks employees when, on Monday, he sent out a long, passionate, companywide e-mail entitled “Leading Through Uncertain Times.”

In it, he wrote about his frustration over “the lack of cooperation and irresponsibility among elected officials as they have put partisan agendas before the people’s agenda” — creating an enormous crisis of confidence in the process. He said that Starbucks had a responsibility “to act in ways that can ease the collective anxiety inside and outside the company.” It needed to continue creating jobs. It had to maintain its generous package of employee benefits. And it was critical, Schultz wrote, for employees “to earn our customers’ trust by being respectful of their own life situations — whatever it may be.”

No, the surprise wasn’t the e-mail; it was what happened next. Although he has made his share of campaign contributions — “to candidates in both parties,” he told me on Friday — Schultz is hardly a political activist. Yet the response to his e-mail — not only from within the company but among a group of some 50 business leaders he shared it with — was so overwhelming that it galvanized him.

Even before sending out the e-mail, an idea had begun forming in his mind about how to force the country’s dysfunctional politicians to stop putting party over country and act like the leaders they are supposed to be. By Friday morning, when we spoke, Schultz was not only ready to unveil his idea, but to spearhead a movement, if that’s what it took.

In effect, Schultz thinks the country should go on strike against its politicians. “The fundamental problem,” he said, “is that the lens through which Congress approaches issues is re-election. The lifeblood of their re-election campaigns is political contributions.” Schultz wants his countrymen — big donors and small; corporations and unions — to stop making political contributions in presidential and Congressional campaigns. Simple as that. Economists like to talk about how incentives change behavior. Schultz is proposing that Americans give Washington an incentive to begin acting responsibly on their behalf. It’s a beautiful idea.

To Schultz, the debt-ceiling crisis — so destructive to the country, yet entirely manufactured for political gain — was merely the final straw. “The debt crisis is really the symbol of a larger problem, which is that our leaders are not leading,” he said. The real crisis, he believes, is a crisis of leadership, both in the White House and in Congress, which is draining confidence. “America’s leaders need to put their feet in the shoes of working Americans,” he said. “ Instead, all they think about is their own political self-interest.”

Schultz began doing some research. In 2000, he said, total campaign contributions, to all politicians, amounted to $3 billion. Four years later, it was $4 billion. In the 2008 election year, he said, “it went up another billion, to $5 billion. I was astonished.” He soon began to connect those numbers to a question he’d been asking himself: “What is it going to take for Washington to listen to us?” The answer now seemed obvious: money. “It is a sad state of affairs that the only thing they’ll listen to is money,” he acknowledged. But if that is what it takes, so be it.

The contribution boycott, as Schultz envisions it, would be completely bipartisan; indeed, it would have to be for it to work. Schultz isn’t calling on Washington to come up with solutions that are aligned with his political leanings (which are Democratic). Rather, he wants solutions, agreed to by both parties, that will help get the country back on its feet.

He believes Congress needs to come back from the August recess now, instead of waiting until September. Then, he says, the president and Congress should hammer out a debt deal, which will restore confidence. And finally, and most importantly, they should start focusing “maniacally” on the nation’s most pressing concern: job creation. Once they’ve done that, the boycott would be lifted.

What I particularly like about Schultz’s idea is that it is not just another plea for compromise and civility, which does nothing to affect political behavior. It is hardheaded and practical, the kind of idea you would expect from a good businessman. Although it would require contributors from both the left and right to join arms, it seems to me that there are enough people in both parties who are fed up enough to give this a try. He’s already lined up one organization, Democracy 21, to support the idea; he’s searching for more.

Is Schultz’s idea a long shot? Yes. Is it worth trying? You bet it is.

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