Business Leaders Respond to Starbucks CEO's Pledge to Boycott Campaign Contributions

Will more CEOs follow the lead of Howard Schultz to help the country?

Aug. 16, 2011 — -- It's far from a stampede of support yet, but a few business leaders are getting behind Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz's pledge to stop all campaign contributions to incumbents until they create a long-term debt deal.

"Right now our economy is frozen in a cycle of fear and uncertainty. Companies are afraid to hire. Consumers are afraid to spend. Banks are afraid to lend," Schultz wrote in a letter dated August 15 to officially launch his campaign, as first reported by the New York Times.

"The only way to break this cycle of fear is to break it. The only way to get the country's economic circulatory system flowing again is to start pumping lifeblood through it," he wrote. "That is why we today issue a second pledge. Our companies are going to hire. We are going to accelerate growth, employment, and investment in jobs."

Nasdaq OMX Group CEO Bob Greifeld forwarded Schultz's letter to all the companies listed in that exchange.

"I think that Howard's idea is a great one, and I have told him that he can count on me," Greifeld wrote in his email to those companies. "At NASDAQ OMX, we will also continue to invest in the future by hiring and focusing our efforts on job creation."

Duncan Niederauer, CEO of the NYSE Euronext, also sent Schultz's email to the 3,000 CEOs in that exchange.

"I am bullish on the state of corporate America, and the millions of jobs which support this powerful network," Niederauer wrote in his email forward to those companies. "Now is the time for corporate leadership, and for the collective voice of our CEOs to be heard. It is my hope that our leaders can put politics aside and focus on generating long-term sustainable growth driven by the private sector."

Greifeld and Niederauer were not available for comment.

Schultz donated $27,900 to seven political candidates from 2007 to 2011, according to the Center for Responsive Politics' website,

Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., who received one of the most recent donations from Schultz, of $2,400 in May 2010, said his statements reflect the frustrations of many Americans.

"Congress must immediately pass a jobs bill that promotes employment and economic growth," she told ABC News. "Americans must actively participate in the political process by voting and supporting candidates that put the needs of people before politics."

Schultz's most recent campaign donation was to Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who was not immediately available to comment along with Schultz's other donation recipients.

Schultz's pledge kicked off as Michele Bachmann clinched the Republican Iowa straw poll for the presidential nomination and the candidates try to woo donors across the country.

A Starbucks spokeswoman said the response has been "positive," though she said she could not provide additional names of CEOs who back the plan.

Requests for comment from AT&T, FedEx, United Parcel Service, Lockheed Martin, some of the largest corporate campaign contributors from 1989 to 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, were not immediately returned.

A spokesman for Goldman Sachs declined to comment.

David Sutton, a spokesman for the tobacco corporation Altria, told ABC News in a statement that its approach to political involvement is centered on engagement of its companies at the federal, state and local levels "to educate stakeholders, including elected officials, about our positions on legislative and regulatory proposals" where permitted by law and company policy.

"In addition, since 1978 our companies' political action committees (PACs), which include Altriapac, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates PAC, and USTEAM PAC, have enabled employees and shareholders to pool their political contributions to support candidates who understand the legislative and regulatory issues that are important to our companies," Sutton said.

A spokeswoman for Citigroup, also provided a statement to ABC News.

"As stated in our Political Contributions and Lobbying Statement, Citigroup does not use corporate funds for independent expenditures nor for federal candidates. Citi's political action committee, which is funded by voluntary employee contributions, makes contributions as permitted under federal, state and local laws to elect candidates whose views we support," the Citigroup spokeswoman said.

Robert Reich, former Labor Department secretary under Bill Clinton and professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, said Schultz's pledge may not be enough to be politically influential.

"He should have gone further and asked all other CEOs to end all campaign contributions, period," Robert Reich, former Labor Department secretary, told ABC News. "They're corrupting our politics and are not even in the interest of shareholders."

Michael Beckel, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, told ABC News that it may be too early to tell whether Schultz's pledge may change behavior in Washington. The majority of large campaign contributors between 1989 and 2010 were in fact associations and unions, according to

But Beckel said a similar campaign by the gay rights community called Don't Ask, Don't Give, launched in 2009, successfully influenced the demise of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy and the 2010 election cycle.

"It seems like it was a message that got across," Beckel said. "That money that had been flowing to certain politicians was no longer there. The Obama administration has been doing more to reach out to supporters of gay rights."

Gay rights groups attacked the donation of the chairman of New Balance to a political action committee supporting former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, as reported by the Washington Post last week.

The chairman of Massachusetts shoe manufacturer New Balance, Jim Davis, made a personal donation of $500,000 to the group, Restore Our Future, on June 15. Gay rights groups criticized the donation in light of Romney signing a pledge earlier this month supporting a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriages.