CEOs Unite!

By: August 25, 2011

Howard Schultz’s campaign to persuade fellow CEOs not to make any political donations until there’s an “acceptable” plan to reduce the national debt has gained a few more adherents.  For the moment, Schultz’s idea remains a “voluntary” boycott of political donations among like minded CEOs, but don’t be surprised to see Schultz try and extend this boycott beyond CEOs. 

As I wrote in this space previously, Mr. Schultz has the right to promote such policies, but he has no right to keep me or anyone else from donating to any political candidate we choose.

Mr. Schultz is trying to use voluntary “moral suasion” to bring others around to his point of view, but I can’t help but think that the real objective is something else.

I note, for instance, that the two biggest donors among the CEOs who’ve signed up for Schultz’ boycott plan — J. Crew CEO Millard Drexler and Whole Foods Co-CEO Walter Robb– like Mr. Schultz, have given generously to President Obama and Hillary Clinton in the past. 

J. Crew’s Millard Drexner, for instance, is a heavy hitter among Democrats. A brief search of the Federal Election Commission records of individual donors shows that he’s given over $15,000 to the Democratic National Committee. Other stalwart liberals he’s donated heavily to include Al Franken, Jeff Bingaman, Chuck Schumer, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton.

Whole Foods’ Walter Robb is an ideological match for Drexner. He’s a big contributor to Tom Harkin, Christie Vilsack, Tom Vilsack, Harry Reid, Democratic Senatorial Committee, Chris Dodd, and Barack Obama.

Two other CEOs who’ve donated less, lean heavily Democratic. Zipcar CEO  Scott Griffith, for instance, has donated to Massachusetts Democrat Michael Capuano. AOL CEO Tim Armstrong has one Republican–Mitt Romney–on his list, but has also given to John Kerry and Chuck Schumer.

J.C. Penney CEO Myron Ullman, the sole “Republican only” donor on the list, gave John McCain a modest contribution in 2008, and George W. Bush a modest contribution in 2003.

I also note that in his public statements so far, Mr. Schultz has merely stated that we need a long term plan to reduce the national debt. He’s carefully avoided the particulars of his solution. Does he, for instance, have specific federal expenditures he wants to eliminate? Or, does he want to increase taxes?

So what’s really going on here?

Frankly, I don’t mind if Howard Schultz and these five CEOs stop giving political donations to the politicians that they’ve supported in the past.  I don’t see a tea party friendly name on the list of any of these folks, and I doubt I ever will.

The cynic in me says Schultz’ campaign is merely a stalking horse for proposing tax increases.  We’ll be watching for future announcements from Mr. Schultz to see if my cynicism is justified.

Michael Patrick Leahy is the editor of the Voices of the Tea Party e-book series and co-founder of Top Conservatives on Twitter and the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition. His new  e-book, I, Light Bulb: A Death Row Testimonial, was published earlier this week. His new book, Covenant of Liberty: The Ideological Origins of the Tea Party Movement, will be published by Broadside Books in spring, 2012. He can be reached on Twitter at @michaelpleahy .

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