Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz recently caused a big stir by trying to turn his giant coffee chain into a political “Startlebucks.”
The coffee baron got hotter than an espresso machine this summer when Congress and the White House failed to produce a longterm, budget-whacking deficit plan big enough to satisfy him. So, he has set out to startle lawmakers by cutting off their campaign bucks. Not only has he shut his checkbook, but he’s also called on other corporate chieftains to do likewise.
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However, Shultz hasn’t gotten many takers. This is hardly a surprise, since campaign cash is the magic key that opens Washington’s goodie box of political favors, and deep-pocket corporations like the way this system pays off for them. Only about a hundred of his corporate colleagues have agreed to join the Starbucks boycott, and few of them are major political players – in fact, 38 have made no campaign donations to national candidates since at least 2008, and 20 more have given less than $5,000.
Interestingly, even Starbucks is not withdrawing entirely from Washington’s money game. A spokesman says the corporation will continue to hire lobbyists to get legislation passed that’s favorable to it and to defeat bills it doesn’t like. Likewise, the hundred executives signing onto Schlutz’s no-campaign-bucks pledge intend to keep spending heavily to lobby Congress.
Meanwhile, no matter what Starbucks does, the political punch of corporate checkbooks is going to be more explosive than ever in next year’s elections. That is the real crisis in our democracy, and the way to fix it is not for a few CEOs to withhold a pittance from the corrupt system, but to ban the use of all corporate funds in our elections and to provide public financing for congressional campaigns.
Come on, Starbucks, lobby for that!
“Just say not to politicians?” USA Today, September 10, 2011.