Starbucks CEO urges halt to U.S. political donations

Published August 15, 2011

| Reuters

By Lisa Baertlein

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Starbucks Corp <SBUX.O> Chief Executive Howard Schultz is winning support for his call to withhold political contributions from U.S. lawmakers until they strike a "fair, bipartisan" deal on the country's debt, revenue and spending.

Schultz recently led the world's biggest coffee chain through a painful but successful restructuring that returned it to growth. In his letter on Monday, he also challenged fellow U.S. business leaders to do their part by hiring workers to give the national economy a much-needed jolt.

NYSE Euronext <NYX.N> Chief Executive Duncan Niederauer and Nasdaq OMX <NDAQ.O> Group Chief Executive Robert Greifeld already have pledged their support.

"I think that Howard's idea is a great one, and I have told him that he can count on me," Greifeld wrote in an email to Nasdaq company leaders.

Schultz's effort comes as wealthy business leaders step up to challenge U.S. politicians who put their partisan bickering on display during the recent debt ceiling debate. That performance helped send consumer confidence to a more than three decade low and was cited when Standard & Poor's downgraded the U.S. credit rating.

This weekend, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera wrote a piece about Schultz's call to boycott campaign contributions. The paper followed that up with an editorial in which revered billionaire investor Warren Buffett called for the United States to raise taxes for mega-rich individuals -- including Buffett himself.

"These are two well-respected CEOs and they're on to something," said Todd Morgan, founder and senior managing director of Bel Air Investment Advisors in Los Angeles, whose firm manages money for families with $20 million or more.

"I think you will get other business leaders following their lead to encourage Washington to take some bold steps, which could inspire more confidence in the economy of our country," Morgan said.

In his letter on Monday, Schultz invited executives to join him in a "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."

Schultz also urged fellow CEOs to invest in projects or new products that will perk up the economy at a time when fear and uncertainty have made businesses unwilling to invest, consumers unwilling to spend and banks unwilling to lend.

"Record levels of cash are piling up in corporate treasuries, idling," he said. "The only way to break this cycle of fear is to break it."

From January through August of this year, Starbucks has hired 36,000 new employees in the United States and Canada, 15 percent more than in the same period a year ago.

(Additional reporting by Joseph Giannone in New York; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

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