Starbucks CEO's pledge to withhold political donations looks like a PR stunt

William Schlitz
William Schlitz
Photo courtesy William Schlitz

By William Schlitz

Recently I have watched in amazement the large number of people falling all over themselves to praise Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz for his call to stop providing political contributions to elected officials. Since sending out his letter, Schultz has received praise from many for being willing to take on the political beast in Washington, D.C.

What is amazing about this "pledge" is not what Schultz has promised but what he has left out. In his letter, Schultz writes the following:

"This is what so many common-sense Americans want. That is why we 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. And we invite leaders of businesses - indeed, all concerned Americans - to join us in this pledge."

This sounds wonderful to many in our country, as frustration grows at the inability of our elected officials to put aside their political differences and address serious issues. But by writing this pledge to deal only with "campaign contributions to the President and all members of Congress," Schultz and his fellow CEOs have left themselves a loophole big enough to fund the entire 2012 election cycle.

Let me explain. Most big money contributions are not made to the campaign committees of individual candidates. There are limits on what each individual person can give to a specific candidate each election cycle. For example, each person can provide a maximum of $2,500 to a candidate per election in 2011-12. The really big contributions flow to the 527s, political action committees (PACs) and political parties (national and state). In particular, 527s have no limits on the contributions they can receive, and in the 2010 election cycle they spent over $590 million.

I have reached out to POP, the public relations firm operating the Upward Spiral 2011 website and Facebook page in support of the Schultz effort, asking for clarification on this contribution loophole. I asked whether the pledge applies to all campaign contributions, including those to 527s, PACs and political parties.

This should produce a simple yes or no answer. Unfortunately, the answer that I have received is far from that. Here is the answer I received, via Facebook:

"In his letter, Howard Schultz asked all concerned Americans to pledge to withhold campaign contributions to the President and all members of Congress. The pledge is a thing that concerned Americans can do -- not the only thing."

Being unable to provide potential supporters with an answer as simple as, "Yes, this includes all campaign contributions," demonstrates to me that this pledge is nothing more than a PR stunt.

The simple way to clear this up is for Schultz and his 100 CEOs to issue a new, clear pledge that simply states they will make no local, state or federal political contributions during the 2012 elections. Until then, "common sense Americans" should pledge not to take Schultz and his PR stunt seriously.


William Schlitz worked in California political campaigns and government from 1989 to 2009. He is currently a full time stay-at-home Dad in Keller, Texas.