Friday, August 26, 2011

Howard Schultz is Right...and Wrong

If you can't play nicely, we'll take our toys and go home. So says Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO, calling on other business leaders to boycott campaign contribution requests. In this start of the political season, it's a move--albeit not so radical. As I alluded in the beginning, it's kind of immature on his part. It's a bribe or punishment to make something happen. "You can't watch TV unless you eat your peas." Doesn't work well with kids. It may not work well with politicians either. Perhaps he should prioritize his campaign contributions towards the independents. Get enough elected and the Democrats and the Republicans will have to build platforms that appeal to the middle. In essence, they'll have to build a coalition government in order to get things done. It seems this is the better strategy for Howard Schultz and others.

But they'd be wrong.

It's not clear if Howard Schultz was speaking as Howard Schultz, private citizen and donor, or Howard Schultz as CEO of Starbucks and he's pledging that no company contributions will be made.

Despite the Supreme Court decision last year, corporations should not provide campaign contributions. According to the decision, they legally can. However, they ethically shouldn't.

On whose behalf is the contribution being made, and for whose benefit? Who decides which candidate gets the contribution?

Starbucks is not Howard Schultz and Howard Schultz is not Starbucks. Nor is the board or the executive committee or the management team. Is Starbucks the shareholders, the employees? Do the shareholders get to decide which candidates are supported by their money (Starbucks' profits)? Do the employees decide how the profits are spent on the Democrats, Republicans or Independents? Maybe the customers should decide.

Howard recently cancelled an appearance at Willow Creek Church's Global Leadership Summit because of a petition. If he decides that it's okay to make campaign contributions, ending his boycott, perhaps he should see which politicians can drum up the largest petition from Starbucks' customers, employees and shareholders in order to receive Starbucks' funds.

Any company I've worked for has had a policy, either at the corporate or local level, not to contribute to political candidates on behalf of the corporation. As individuals we were free to do so, but not on behalf of the companies for which we worked. We probably had individuals contributing to Democrats and others to the Republicans. And that's as it should be.

Schultz is right to boycott campaign contributions, but it's for the wrong reasons. (If he likes my strategy of electing independents, he's free to contribute to my campaign...which I might have if he makes a large contribution.)

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