The CEO of Starbucks wants Washington to wake up and smell the coffee.
Infuriated by what he described as irresponsible behavior, Howard Schultz is calling on his fellow CEOs -- and other would-be donors -- to boycott all campaign contributions to either party until the nation's elected leaders put aside their political posturing and find some common ground on long-term fiscal issues.
Schultz wrote in a widely distributed email dated Monday that, like "so many common-sense Americans," he wants elected leaders to consider "all options, from entitlement programs to taxes," and reach a wide-ranging budget deal "long before the deadline arrives this fall."
Schultz concluded with a promise: "We today pledge to withhold any further campaign contributions to the President and all members of Congress until a fair, bipartisan deal is reached that sets our nation on stronger long-term fiscal footing. "
It's not clear who else he was speaking for -- and Schultz is something of an unlikely populist. His 2010 compensation was nearly $22 million, according to Equilar, adding to a net worth of over three-quarters of a billion dollars.
Then again, earlier Monday morning, the even richer Warren Buffett, in a New York Times op-ed, railed at Congress for being too billionaire-friendly.
Fred Wertheimer, dean of Washington's campaign-finance reform community, said his group, Democracy 21, will be working with Schultz to build national support for a donation boycott. "He asked for our help and we are happy to give it to him," Wertheimer said.
"We think it's a bold move," he added. "And we think the gridlock and deadlock and partisanship in Washington has reached such levels that it has to be broken through."
Wertheimer said the relationship between money and Washington politics is clear: "When you're in a situation when you need sacrifices to be made from all quarters, the power exercised by political money makes it extremely difficult to achieve that result."
Republican intransigence on raising any taxes whatsoever, even on the wealthiest Americans, has been a major source of Washington's gridlock.
Schultz has not been a particularly generous political donor himself. And if he ends up being the only donor who actually goes through with the boycott, the losers will be Democratic candidates. The opensecrets.org website shows Schultz gave $70,000 to the Democratic National Committee between 1996 and 2000, but in the last four years has contributed less than $10,000 total, shared among Washington State's two Democratic senators and President Barack Obama.
In his email, Schultz made what he called a "second pledge" as well, after noting that "while the long-term fiscal challenge is serious, even more painful to millions of Americans today is the immediate crisis of jobs."
He vowed: "Our companies are going to hire. We are going to accelerate growth, employment, and investment in jobs."
Schultz's boycott campaign was first reported over the weekend by New York Times columnist Joe Nocera. Nocera described how the boycott campaign was the outgrowth of an earlier email that Schultz sent last week to Starbucks employees and some fellow business leaders. In that email, Schultz described himself as "growing more and more frustrated at the lack of cooperation and irresponsibility among elected officials as they have put partisan agendas before the people's agenda."
He told Nocera the response was so positive that it galvanized him to take the next step.
Schultz was not immediately available for comment.
READ the full text of Schultz's email:
August 15, 2011
Dear Fellow Concerned Americans:
Our country is better than this.
Over the last few weeks and months, our national elected officials from both parties have failed to lead. They have chosen to put partisan and ideological purity over the well-being of the people. They have undermined the full faith and credit of the United States. They have stirred up fears about our economic prospects without doing anything to truly address those fears. They have spent a resource even more precious than the dollar: our collective confidence in each other, in the future, and in our ability to solve problems together.
As leaders in business, we have watched all this unfold, first with frustration and then with dismay. Like so many of our employees and customers, we are gravely concerned about the current situation. Today, with both humility and urgency, we propose to do something about it.
First, we aim to push our elected leaders to face the nation's long-term fiscal challenges with civility, honesty, and a willingness to sacrifice their own re-election. This means not kicking the can anymore. It means reaching a deal on debt, revenue, and spending long before the deadline arrives this fall. It means considering all options, from entitlement programs to taxes.
This is what so many common-sense Americans want. That is why we today pledge to withhold any further campaign contributions to the President and all members of Congress until a fair, bipartisan deal is reached that sets our nation on stronger long-term fiscal footing. And we invite leaders of businesses – indeed, all concerned Americans – to join us in this pledge.
We also believe in leading by positive example. And we believe that while the long-term fiscal challenge is serious, even more painful to millions of Americans today is the immediate crisis of jobs. Tens of millions are unemployed and underemployed. Right now our economy is frozen in a cycle of fear and uncertainty. Companies are afraid to hire. Consumers are afraid to spend. Banks are afraid to lend. Record levels of cash are piling up in corporate treasuries, idling. That cash is not being used to expand operations, train new workers, underwrite new ventures, or spark innovation.
The only way to break this cycle of fear is to break it. The only way to get the country's economic circulatory system flowing again is to start pumping lifeblood through it. That is why we today issue a second pledge. Our companies are going to hire. We are going to accelerate growth, employment, and investment in jobs.
We do this because we want to set in motion an upward spiral of confidence. We are not waiting for government to create an incentive program or a stimulus. We are not waiting for economic indicators to tell us it's safe to act. We are hiring more people now. We invite leaders of businesses across the country to join us in this pledge as well – and to bring their stakeholders into the effort. Confidence is contagious. The best thing we can do now is to spread it.
This is a time for citizenship, not partisanship. It is a time for action. We don't pretend that our two pledges are quick fixes. We just believe that in this moment of great uncertainty, the government needs discipline, the people need jobs – and leaders need to lead.
Our country is better than this. Let's get things moving now.