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Starbucks chief ‘s vow can’t put lid on politics
Donations pour in despite ‘withhold’
OLYMPIA, Wash. — If Starbucks chief Howard Schultz wants voters to withhold campaign cash from federal politicians, he may need to start with trying to halt the flow of donations coming from the people who work for him.
Starbucks Corp.'s leadership, employees and lobbying firm have continued to contribute thousands of dollars to federal officeholders despite Mr. Schultz's urging, according to campaign records reviewed by the Associated Press.
He invited Americans to join him in withholding campaign contributions until politicians could reach a bipartisan deal to stabilize the nation's fiscal situation — an appeal that Fortune magazine cited in naming Mr. Schultz its "Businessperson of the Year" last week.
There is no evidence that the "withhold" movement has had any impact on the flow of money in politics, as third-quarter donations to congressional campaigns were higher than during the last election cycle.
In just the six weeks after the coffee guru announced his pledge with the support of dozens of other business executives, the donations continued among many of those companies, including AOL Inc., Juniper Networks Inc. and Nasdaq.
Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market Inc. and a top supporter of the movement, gave an in-kind donation to a congressional campaign in September after taking Mr. Schultz's vow. He said through a spokeswoman that he had committed to providing food and beverages to Jared Huffman, a candidate in California's 2nd Congressional District, in the summer and that he decided to stick with it even though it had been delayed until after the pledge.
The lobbying firm that handles much of Starbucks' work in the nation's capital, K&L Gates, has continued to donate through its political action committee to current and prospective members of Congress — some $40,000 from the start of the pledge through the end of September.
Meanwhile, two members of the company's board of directors, which Mr. Schultz leads as chairman, also gave donations after the vow was announced.
Mellody Hobson, a Starbucks board member who donated $1,500 to House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said she has not signed the pledge. Sheryl Sandberg, a Facebook executive who serves on the Starbucks board and recently gave donations to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, New York Democrat, declined to comment through a spokesman.
At least three other Starbucks employees have given donations since Mr. Schultz promoted the pledge. One of them was Steve Johannesen, a director of international development at Starbucks who gave $2,000 to President Obama's re-election campaign in September.
Jim Olson, a Starbucks spokesman, said Mr. Schultz fully respects the personal decisions of employees and board members.
"Howard's pledge was a personal request, not a company initiative," Mr. Olson said.
In mid-August, after Congress struggled for a compromise plan to raise the debt ceiling, Mr. Schultz said in a public letter that elected officials from both parties had failed to lead and threatened the economy. He sought to encourage elected officials to act with civility and seek a deal on debt and spending long before the congressional deficit supercommittee failed to reach a deal before its deadline this week.
Mr. Olson said the effort was designed to increase confidence and draw attention to accountability.
"We have never claimed we would turn this country around by ourselves and know we still have a lot of work ahead of us, but we are very proud of the progress we are making and that we are trying to do something and setting an example for others," Mr. Olson said.
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