From his Seattle office, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has seen enough and is leading what amounts to a boycott of political contributions until Congress and President Obama work out a plan that restores faith in the American economy.
"Right now, our economy is frozen in a cycle of fear and uncertainty," Schultz wrote this week to other corporate leaders. "Companies are afraid to hire. Consumers are afraid to spend. Banks are afraid to lend."
"Our national elected officials from both parties have failed to lead," he says. "They have chosen to put partisan and ideological purity over the wellbeing 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."
Schultz said the way to get the attention of politicians is to cut off campaign contributions. "We invite leaders of businesses — indeed all concerned Americans — to join us in this pledge."
The initial communication was an email to 3,000 publicly traded companies. Apparently officials at U.S. stock exchanges forwarded the letter to a broader audience, where his appeal appeared to gain traction. While Starbucks isn't a major political contributor, Schultz' call to action could catch on and hit political figures where it hurts — their campaign war chests.
Schultz also called on corporate leaders to act to accelerate job creation, even if it means in some cases replacing services curtailed by federal, state and local spending reductions. "We have a responsibility as well as an opportunity not to be bystanders, but to act in ways that can ease the collective anxiety," Schultz wrote in a separate email to employees.
Schultz, reportedly the highest paid CEO in the Pacific Northwest, joins Warren Buffett in the business bully-pulpit. In a New York Times op-ed piece this week, Buffett wrote, "My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It's time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice." Citing the growing gap between rich and poor citizens, Buffett said taxing America's wealthiest citizens a little more would help restore faith in the federal government's ability to deal with the nation's fiscal problems.
Starbucks has gone through a period of closing coffee shops and reducing its employment levels. But since January, the coffee giant has hired 36,000 people in the United States and Canada and says it expects to hire as many as 70,000 more people in the next year. After Schultz dispatched his email, Starbucks stock price rose 47 cents. That could be due in part to a recovering stock market following last week's volatile and steep declines in the wake of the Standard & Poor's action to lower the U.S. debt rating and continuing fears about debt in many European Union member nations.