Guest columnist Reid Wilson argues that citizens should ignore Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz's idea to withhold candidate campaign donations until elected officials solve the nation's problems. With so many important decisions, now is the time for citizens to engage, not to sit idly by.

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FROM the earliest age, we are taught to participate in our society. Vote, or don’t complain about the actions of those who win office.

Howard Schultz’s call to refrain from donating to political campaigns is an abdication of that individual responsibility to take part in determining our own future. It is a call that should be ignored.

In an email to friends last week, the Starbucks CEO urged business leaders to stop making contributions until Congress and President Obama return to Washington to work out a solution to the nation’s deficit problems. In an interview with New York Times columnist Joe Nocera, Schultz went further, advocating that all Americans boycott the campaigns that live off their donations.

Schultz is right that the nation stands at the brink of a fiscal calamity, one that the Republican House of Representatives and the Democratic Senate appear unable to solve. But the looming threat makes this exactly the right time for Americans to become more involved, to advocate more fiercely for their chosen path.

Hardly has there been a starker philosophical difference between the two sides than the debate over the size and influence of government. Democrats believe it is the government’s job to spend money to help the economy get out of a terrible slump that has caused incredible pain and suffering to those out of work. Republicans believe government spending and regulation is exactly what’s gotten us into this mess, and that the tide of red ink threatens to swamp all our boats.

Which side is right? Next year’s elections are the opportunity Americans have to render their verdict. The decision will be a validation of one of these fundamentally different approaches. Given the looming crisis and the implications for everything from social services to garbage pickup to Medicare and Social Security, voters should care a great deal. That makes this moment exactly the wrong time to disengage.

Don’t be fooled: Schultz’s refusal to write a campaign check won’t leave him without a voice. Special-interest groups and their lobbyists spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on members of Congress in an effort to influence legislative outcomes. Starbucks, in fact, has spent at least $490,000 this year on lobbying. Ten lobbyists, six of whom once worked on Capitol Hill, represent Starbucks’ interests before members of Congress, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog in Washington, D.C.

Now, we can add hundreds of millions more to the already massive amounts of lobbyist spending. After two key court decisions, outside organizations may now raise unlimited funds from individuals, corporations or labor unions, all without disclosing their sources. That money can be spent on a barrage of negative advertisements aimed at influencing an election.

A campaign donation, a decision to volunteer for the candidate of one’s choice, or even a conversation with an undecided voter is the average American’s chance to be their own special interest, and to magnify their own voice in a way those in Washington do every day. Why abdicate the chance to have influence so that Starbucks may have a greater say?

In 2008, Americans spent $5.3 billion on federal candidates and campaigns, which resulted in a Democratic Congress and President Obama in the White House. That same year, 73 percent of Starbucks’s $10.3 billion in revenue came from customers in the United States. That means Americans spent about 50 percent more on coffee than they did electing a president and a Congress that gave us health-care reform, financial regulatory reform and a $787 billion stimulus package. Whichever side you fall on, that’s what campaign donations bought.

The problems the nation faces are mind-numbingly massive. The direction we choose next year will decide how those incredible challenges are tackled. For the price of a few of Schultz’s signature drinks, the average American has the chance to help his or her chosen side. Schultz’s call to disengage from one’s social responsibility is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing.

Reid Wilson, a Seattle native, is editor in chief of National Journal Hotline, a Washington, D.C., daily tip sheet on politics.