Forgive me if I'm just the tiniest bit skeptical and annoyed by Howard Schultz' righteous cry for "Washington" to get together and get to a deal on the deficit and national debt. In this interview with Scott Pelley, he repeatedly refers to "Washington", as if "Washington the Monolith" somehow caused the gridlock that exists now.
I understand why President Obama uses the more generic "Congress" to point his finger. But if you're someone like the CEO of Starbucks and you know exactly who is responsible for the incivility in Washington and the gridlock in Congress, standing up brave and tall and waggling your finger at everyone doesn't make any sense.
Now, as to the campaign contributions. Schultz is calling for a moratorium on all campaign contributions. From the interview:
Pelley: You know, since this idea of yours first came out over the weekend, there's been some criticism of it. And part of that criticism essentially says, "This is a little like nuclear weapons. Just because you disarm, that doesn't mean your opponents will." Doesn't it leave an opening for others to wield their influence while you're taking your money to the sidelines?
Schultz: Well, first off, I understand that, Scott. We want to suspend the donations to encourage the incumbents, including the president, to go back to work and to reach a deal. We have sent these people to Washington to represent America, not represent singular ideology.
Dare I ask who was representing singular ideology in that last debate? Indeed, the President has taken a hard hit from his own side of the aisle for reaching too far over to the other side. That gesture has brought him bushels of criticism from Democrats and other liberal observers. If one were being genuine about this call, they would call the debt ceiling debacle as it was and name names instead of saying "incumbents."
In fact, I would argue that the reference to incumbents is intended to fuel anti-incumbent sentiments among the electorate, which almost always works to conservatives' benefit. Schultz is almost not even subtle in his sneering false equivalence. Here's a clip from his letter:
Over the last few weeks and months, our national elected officials from both parties have failed to lead. They have chosen to put partisan and ideological purity over the well-being 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. They have spent a resource even more precious than the dollar: our collective confidence in each other, in the future, and in our ability to solve problems together.
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.
Now I know Schultz is supposed to be a liberal. Supposedly. But I will also note that he was scheduled to appear at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit, and withdrew at about the same time that gay rights activist Asher Huey brought some pressure to bear (and publicity) for supporting Willow Creek's mushy theology on gays and membership in the church. And honestly, I don't know many CEOs earning nearly $30 million in compensation for 2011 who call themselves liberals. Schultz is on record as being in opposition to the Affordable Care Act mandate, but even that is the one area of common ground liberals and conservatives share. He's a venture capitalist and a CEO, named by Steve Forbes as one of Forbes' "heroes" (PDF) in a US Chamber of Commerce publication, and he sent his letter to Wall Street buddies. So tell me. What do you think his intentions are?
Huffington Post's Dan Froomkin notes the following:
Schultz has not been a particularly generous political donor himself. And if he ends up being the only donor who actually goes through with the boycott, the losers will be Democratic candidates. The opensecrets.org website shows Schultz gave $70,000 to the Democratic National Committee between 1996 and 2000, but in the last four years has contributed less than $10,000 total, shared among Washington State's two Democratic senators and President Barack Obama.
In his email, Schultz made what he called a "second pledge" as well, after noting that "while the long-term fiscal challenge is serious, even more painful to millions of Americans today is the immediate crisis of jobs."
How noble of him to withhold contributions from representatives who actually do seek to serve the people.
Some of the recipients of his letter are an odd choice. One is NYSE Euronext CEO Duncan Niederauer, who agreed to the pledge and to forward the letter to companies listed on the Euronext exchange. Here's a description of that exchange:
NYSE Euronext, a holding company created by the combination of NYSE Group, Inc. and Euronext N.V., commenced trading on April 4, 2007 . NYSE Euronext (NYSE Euronext: NYX) operates the world’s largest and most liquid exchange group and offers the most diverse array of financial products and services. NYSE Euronext, which brings together six cash equities exchanges in five countries and six derivatives exchanges in six countries, is a world leader for listings, trading in cash equities, equity and interest rate derivatives, bonds and the distribution of market data. Representing a combined $30.3 trillion/€21.3 trillion total market capitalization of listed companies and average daily trading value of approximately $139 billion/€103 billion (as of September 30, 2007), NYSE Euronext seeks to provide the highest standards of market quality and integrity, innovative products and services to investors, issuers, and all users of its markets.
How many U.S. companies are listed on the NYSE Euronext? None. It's a foreign stock exchange. What exactly would be the point of sending that boycott letter on to foreign corporations?
Then there's Robert Greifeld, another named recipient.
Greifeld has been a strong advocate of modernizing exchanges and financial regulation to keep America's capital markets competitive. He has been outspoken on issues including Sarbanes Oxley, encouraging CEOs to embrace sound, modern regulation as consistent with good business practices. Greifeld has been critical of outmoded U.S. immigration policies, citing these as harmful to U.S. innovation and business growth. Prior to joining NASDAQ OMX, Greifeld led the buy-side businesses for SunGard Data Systems. He was an entrepreneur for 10 years and with a small team, created what became the industry standard trade order management system for NASDAQ stocks. The company he led, Automated Securities Clearance and its technology platform, BRASS, was purchased by SunGard in 1999. Greifeld holds a Masters in Business from New York University, Stern School of Business, and a B.A. in English from Iona College. His graduate school thesis was on the operation of The NASDAQ Stock Market.
Greifeld is a member of the Business Roundtable, the Financial Services Roundtable and the Partnership for New York City, an organization devoted to enhancing the local economy. He is Chairman of the USA Track & Field Foundation, which supports emerging athletes and inner city youth athletics.
The Business Roundtable has lots of members. Will Griefeld call on his fellow business roundtable members to boycott contributions to Republicans?
At best, this seems like a move on the part of mega-business to pressure Democrats to give in on Social Security and Medicare while giving Republicans a pass. It makes me glad I gave up Starbucks three years ago in favor of a local, and far better, alternative.