Starbucks is a good corporate citizen, as such things go. But here we have a big public call from its CEO, Howard Schultz, for responsibility and leadership on the debt from politicians while at the same time his company works the back alleys of the capital to persuade those same politicians to preserve its tax...
So Howard Schultz is the new Howard Beale, shouting, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
The Starbucks CEO’s call last week that we all go on strike against Congress and the White House earned him more buzz than a double shot.
The New York Times, for one, called Schultz’s plan to boycott the federal political system “a beautiful idea … hardheaded and practical, the kind of idea you would expect from a good businessman.”
My own newspaper’s editorial gushed: “Howie, wowie: Schultz puts politicians on notice.” Schultz said he was “stunned” by the support, adding: “We touched a nerve.”
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Hold the caffeine, everyone. Am I the only one who sees this boycott as naive, and also a sideshow?
In an open letter last week, Schultz correctly pointed out that dysfunction in the nation’s capital has “undermined the full faith and credit of the United States.” As well as “stirred up fears about our economic prospects without doing anything to truly address those fears.”
He pledged hitting those bickering politicians right where they breathe. To “withhold any further campaign contributions to the president and all members of Congress until a fair, bipartisan debt deal is reached that sets our nation on stronger long-term footing.”
Schultz said that fair to him means both spending cuts and some new taxes to reduce the debt — in other words, the Democratic position, at least as it has been stated by President Obama.
Fine. But as Schultz seems to agree with the Democrats, it’s no surprise that he and his wife have donated almost exclusively to them over the years. Since 1994, the pair gave $183,000 to federal campaigns, all but $1,000 of which went to the Democratic Party or its candidates such as Obama, Sen. Patty Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell.
So he’s boycotting the people he agrees with!
Schultz said he hopes to make this less self-defeating by attracting others to the boycott, including, presumably, big funders of the Republicans. You know, the party that has signed pledges to never raise taxes in any situation ever. Including when we’re at war, or in debt crisis (or even both at the same time).
There’s about as much chance big anti-tax GOP funders would go along with this as there is that a group of out-of-town tycoons would buy our basketball team and then keep it in Seattle.
OK, so that was a bit of a cheap shot. Schultz has since said he was duped into selling the Sonics. Still, this boycott strikes me as just as credulous.
It’s fine to yearn for political civility and compromise. I do that myself often. But two-party politics is a zero-sum game. Calling for a high-minded boycott that only one side would ever go along with — your side — is unilateral disarmament. If feels great until the bombing starts.
Besides, campaign donations are not the biggest pressure point on Congress. Lobbying is. Nobody is proposing a cease-fire on that.
Take Starbucks. Each year the coffee giant spends about $700,000 lobbying Congress — more than triple what Schultz has donated to campaigns in nearly 20 years.
I looked up the recent lobbying reports, which list what issues Starbucks is pushing on Capitol Hill. Nowhere is debt or deficit reduction mentioned. In fact, the company’s big effort of late has been fighting off attempts by the government to collect taxes on profits that U.S. corporations transfer to tax havens overseas. U.S. corporations such as … Starbucks!
Our coffee company is a good corporate citizen, as such things go. But here we have a big public call from Schultz for responsibility and leadership on the debt that puts all the blame squarely on politicians. While at the same time his company works the back alleys of the capital, as big corporations do, to persuade those same politicians to preserve its tax loopholes.
Which effort is the more sincere?
It doesn’t matter. Because you can bet which will be more effective.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org.