Political Animal


August 25, 2011 12:35 PM The counterproductive ‘no donations’ pledge

By Steve Benen

I can appreciate why business leaders may want to use their influence to help shape the political debate. I can also appreciate why they’d see value in creating incentives for policymakers to act responsibly.

I can’t appreciate counterproductive stunts like these.

More than 100 business leaders have signed on to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s pledge to stop making donations to incumbents until Washington gridlock eases, sending a message to lawmakers that they must make real progress in reining in deficit spending. “As many of our political leaders campaign and vacation, the U.S. economy remains in a cycle of fear and uncertainty,” Schultz wrote in a Wednesday letter addressed to “fellow leaders.” And his initiative, he said, has “triggered a national dialogue and a groundswell of support” since he launched it last week.

In all, more than 100 business leaders have agreed to the pledge, which not only has leaders agreeing to stop campaign contributions until lawmakers “strike a bipartisan, balanced long-term debt deal that addresses both entitlements and revenues,” but also has the leaders agreeing to find ways to accelerate job growth in their companies and the economy as a whole.

For crying out loud, do these folks not keep up on the details of current events?

Let’s see, they’re looking for an economic package that includes long-term debt-reduction, entitlement “reforms,” additional revenue, and measures intended to boost short-term economic growth.

If this economic wish list sounds familiar, it’s because it’s what President Obama already wants and is pushing for.

But these business leaders aren’t contributing to Obama or Democrats for agreeing with them; the business leaders are instead refusing to contribute to anyone until the agenda is approved.

If there’s any kind of strategic, policy-driven thinking here, I don’t see it. If these wealthy folks said, “We’ll only donate to candidates who agree to pursue our preferred agenda,” that would certainly make sense. It might even create an incentive for policymakers (“I want the contributions, so I should be more open to the kind of compromise the business leaders are demanding”).

But that’s not the message at all. The captains of industry surely realize that they’re on the same page as the president, but instead of rewarding their allies for agreeing with them, the business leaders are withholding support from everyone. Republicans have made it clear they reject nearly every aspect of this wish list — the GOP opposes compromise, a balanced approach to debt reduction, and short-term stimulus — but Howard Schultz and his partners don’t seem to care.

Kevin Drum concluded, “My guess is that the GOP leadership is laughing its ass off over this.” I can only assume the same. Whomever these business leaders contacted for political guidance gave them some very poor advice.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • Danp on August 25, 2011 12:42 PM:

    One would hope that someone is keeping track of who signs this pledge and to whome they have given in the past. If Dems, they're hypocrites. I Reps, I don't blame them.

  • c u n d gulag on August 25, 2011 12:42 PM:

    Does anyone believe this BS?

    That these Galtian Overlords won't contribute to EITHER party?


    The SCOTUS basically gave them all a way to donate whatever they want, whenever they want, to whomever the want (HINT: REPUBLICANS) via 'Citizens United,' with no disclosure regulations.

    And you believe them?

    Ok, there's this nice antique bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan that I'm selling...
    Wanna buy?

  • DAY on August 25, 2011 12:44 PM:

    Low class, low information, low IQ voters have always said "They're all crooks, D and R alike, and I ain't gonna vote!

    High class, high wealth, high educated CEOs say, "They're all crooks, D and R alike, and I ain't gonna make a campaign contribution!

  • Mr Fisher on August 25, 2011 12:45 PM:

    I don't drink Starbucks and wouldn't touch AOL with a ten foot pole, but I would suggest a boycott of these businesses until they BEGIN supporting politicians who support "a bipartisan, balanced long-term debt deal that addresses both entitlements and revenues."

  • Darsan54 on August 25, 2011 12:45 PM:

    This is an idea which might work if you could count on the rabid, fanatical Right to also stay out. But, come on guys, do you actually think this would happen? It's like a movie scene where the good guy would offer to fist fight the bad guy after he gets the drop on him. In real life, the bad guy would wait for the gun to be laid down and either pull his knife or shoot the good guy thru the head.

    We have gotten this idea, truth will always win and the wisdom of the voters will prevail. We are a nation of idiots and will allow ourselves to be lead to our own doom.

    And I'm being optimistic here.

  • Mark-NC on August 25, 2011 12:47 PM:

    Yea - what c u n d gulag said!

    These guys are mostly Republican. They will lie to your face and still give money to Republicans - even it it mans that they are slitting their own throats.

  • martin on August 25, 2011 12:59 PM:

    I guess they figured if withholding sex was a workable idea for the ancient Greeks, withholding money is the modern equivalent (and who knows, they may be right).

    I suggest we start a pledge to withhold our business until the "leaders" get their heads out of their asses.

  • catclub on August 25, 2011 1:07 PM:

    They are witholding contributions from INCUMBENTS. I am sure it is no accident that the most prominent incumbent is the President.

    They can still give to challengers of incumbents who agree with them. Useless pledge.

  • Curmudgeon on August 25, 2011 1:09 PM:

    I can see a certain cowardly logic behind this. These business guys are no doubt Republican through and through, but they're fed up with the policies and tactics of the current party leadership because they know it will hurt their bottom line sooner or later.

    But they still can't just put on their man-pants and single out their beloved party for causing all this misery. No, they have to hide behind yet another false equivalency by saying both parties are at fault so they're not donating to anyone.

    It's totally bogus but at least it's a start. They can always ramp it up to be more Republican-centric later if necessary, and I'm pretty sure it will. Whether they would actually do it remains to be seen.

  • Chris - IL on August 25, 2011 1:10 PM:

    Deep Pockets quietly stoked some Shallow Minds in 2010. They have regrets, but non-partison appearances must be maintained.

    I would look beyond the messaging to the impact on this one. Who are these people and where did they put their money in 2010?

  • SYSPROG on August 25, 2011 1:36 PM:

    Oh Howie...you've screwed the pooch THIS time. I just sent him an email to his Starbucks account and attached this column. He really isn't a dumb man but he's mad, all over the news and acting like a jerk.

  • bob h on August 25, 2011 1:45 PM:

    I'd like to translate for these people: "DC gridlock" = "GOP rip-up-the tracks, nihilistic, obstructionism".

    I never cease to be amazed at the shallowness of American business leadership.

  • Joe Friday on August 25, 2011 1:58 PM:

    During an interview I saw, Schultz claimed our biggest problem is the "debt crisis" and that it was from "overspending".

    I am endlessly amazed at just how many of the Rich & Corporate in this country are so incredibly STOOPID.

  • Mitch on August 25, 2011 2:16 PM:

    In my opinion this is another battle in the war for control of the Republican party. The Tea Baggers have grown too powerful for the puppetmasters to control, and the Tea Baggers in Congress certainly haven't HELPED the super-rich.

    So now the plutocrats are trying to remind the GOP who is in charge.

    "You hurt us in the Debt Ceiling debacle," say the business leaders, "So now we turn our backs on you."

    This is why they are not throwing their support behind Obama and the Dems. True, the plutocrats may be on the same page as the Dems right now. . . but the Republican Party is THEIR party. And I have never known a wealthy person who could let go of something that they view as rightfully theirs.

    This isn't really about policy. Why should it be? Truth be told these lords of commerce will be rich no matter what happens in Washington. Why should they care about "a bipartisan, balanced long-term debt deal"??

    Cui bono? These guys do nothing without seeking personal gain from it. Do you think they are withholding donations out of civic pride?

    No. This is about control. It's petty and small and vile; the usual Republican traits. The pluotcrats fear that they have lost control of their party, and so now they are pulling on the leash, trying to regain dominance. The Tea Bagging Monster they created has overpowered them; so the Old Guard is trying to prove that by controlling the dollars, they control the Party.

    We'll see how that goes.

  • Elizabelle on August 25, 2011 2:36 PM:

    I think I have just had my last Starbucks coffee for a while, and I am going to tell Howard Schultz why.

    They're not all crooks, and false equivalency -- by Schultz and the lapdog media -- is going to buy us fascism.

    Not a brew suitable for drinking.

  • MuddyLee on August 25, 2011 3:01 PM:

    Let the Starbucks boycott begin - and let it begin with me - not difficult since the closest one is 30 miles away - BUT - I invite you people who live in cities to join me.

  • Mike on August 25, 2011 3:13 PM:

    Steve, sometimes you have to step back a little and try to look at things from something other than a liberal-blogger viewpoint.

    Even though Starbucks seems to have a number of seemingly liberal-leaning (they accept man-made climate change, they attempt to minimize their ecological footprint, etc), they certainly have customers from both sides of the political aisle. They are certainly NOT going to alienate their conservative customers by publicly blasting the Republican party.

    So I can completely understand where Mr. Schultz did what he did.

    Further, you can say what you want, but Democrats aren't blameless is this mess. With the debt-limit "crisis," every time the republicans pushed, the Dems fell back. The result was that the Republicans got pretty much everything they wanted. Perhaps if Dems developed some spine and pushed back rather than always retreating, the Republicans might be forced to give some and the logjam will break up.

  • tam on August 25, 2011 4:07 PM:

    Another pledge. If someone asked these folks, as well as most Republican officeholders, to sign a pledge to hold their breath until a Balanced Budget Amendment passes, I wonder if they would do it. It might be worth a try.

    And how self-satisfied do you have to be to address a public letter to "fellow leaders"?

  • exlibra on August 25, 2011 4:46 PM:

    The Starbucks guy had been a Dem donor in the past. If the others are like him, then it's a unilateral disarmament -- because Repubs won't follow -- and the most stupid idea, ever. One wonders how come all of those geniuses aren't bankrupt yet.

    Craptcha took *seven tries* to produce something semi-legible: "users TravLet". I consider my self a "user" of this blog but find its travelling restrictions much too stringent and discouraging.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on August 25, 2011 7:11 PM:

    It's always been my opinion that business people ended up in business because they aren't talented or intelligent enough to do something interesting.

  • Doug on August 25, 2011 7:32 PM:

    How much has been given by this group to Democrats and how much to Republicans? Unless they're nearly equal amounts, this will hurt Republicans much more than Democrats.
    Right now I'm going with Mitch @ 2:16 PM: it's all about control of the Republican Party.
    "It's my party..."