BUSINESS

Will Starbucks CEO's Pledge To Cut Off Washington Work?

08/19/2011 04:35 pm ET | Updated Oct 19, 2011

To be successful in a bid to starve Washington of dollars, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz will likely have to expand his campaign to boycott campaign contributions beyond fellow CEOs.

On Aug. 12, Schultz made a high-profile challenge: cut off all campaign donations until the political class starts behaving like adults.

In an email to corporate America and "concerned Americans" alike, Schultz said:

"[W]e 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."

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group, the business sector remains the major source of donations to individual campaigns. But a Top 10 list of "heavy hitters" in federal-level political donations lists only one corporation: AT&T.

Since 1989, political giving has been dominated by labor unions, including the American Federation of State and Municipal Employees, the Service Employees International Union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, theLaborers Union and the American Federation of Teachers.

Labor unions contacted by HuffPost -- including the SEIU, AFL-CIO and AFSCME -- were unavailable for comment on Schultz's pledge.

Complications for the effort to freeze campaign dollars could arise from the newly-established "super PACs" -- independent political committees that can accept unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations and unions. The groups are likely to have an outsized influence in the next election cycle: In 2010, conservative super PACs spent $121.7 million, while liberal groups spent an estimated $12.6 million; the numbers for both are expected to increase significantly in 2012.

Schultz noted that in the days following the release of his pledge, he had "heard from thousands of people" and included among his supporters NYSE Euronext CEO Duncan Niederauer and Bob Greifeld, head of the Nasdaq OMX Group -- both of whom emailed letters of support to companies listed on their respective exchanges.

"I think that Howard's idea is a great one, and I have told him that he can count on me," Greifeld wrote. "At NASDAQ OMX, we will also continue to invest in the future by hiring and focusing our efforts on job creation."

In his message, Niederauer said, "Now is the time for corporate leadership, and for the collective voice of our CEOs to be heard. It is my hope that our leaders can put politics aside and focus on generating long-term sustainable growth driven by the private sector."

Neither Niederauer nor Greifeld was available for further comment Friday.

In an email to HuffPost, Jim Olson, Starbucks' vice president for global corporate communications, noted that "[i]t is still very early -- we're only seven days into this effort," but reiterated that the company had "heard directly from hundreds of people –- CEOs, business leaders, community leaders, and citizens."

Olson added that "[t]hese responses have included pledges of support" as well as "a rich vein of additional ideas that we are discussing and determining how or if to act upon."

Starbucks, he wrote, is "taking the appropriate time to review all of the responses and consider the many ideas we have received before we make public who is supporting Howard's pledge."

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