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Originally published August 15, 2011 at 4:25 PM | Page modified August 17, 2011 at 11:26 AM

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz: Don't contribute to politicians

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has had it with political dickering in Washington, D. C., and is calling for a boycott on campaign contributions to President Obama and congressional lawmakers until they put the country's financial house in order.

Seattle Times business reporter

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Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has had it with political dickering in Washington, D.C., and is calling for a boycott on campaign contributions to President Obama and congressional lawmakers until they put the country's financial house in order.

He also wants companies to override their fear and start spending the cash they're sitting on. Starbucks had $1.7 billion in July, up from $1.2 billion when its fiscal year ended nine months earlier.

"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," he wrote in a letter sent Monday to other corporate leaders. The heads of Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange forwarded it to their thousands of members.

Besides stopping campaign contributions, Schultz — the Northwest's top-paid CEO last year — vowed to help get the economy moving by hiring.

"We are going to accelerate growth, employment and investment in jobs," he said.

Confidence is contagious, he reasoned, so "we are not waiting for government to create an incentive program or a stimulus. We are not waiting for economic indicators to tell us it's safe to act. We are hiring more people now."

They are big promises for a company that over the past few years has closed stores and cut some 35,000 jobs. It had 137,000 employees when its fiscal year ended last October.

Starbucks has hired 36,000 people in the U.S. and Canada since January, including filling an unspecified number of positions that were left open when workers left the company.

That's up 15 percent from a year ago, and Starbucks expects to hire 70,000 more people in the U.S. over the next six to 12 months, said spokeswoman Stacey Krum.

Starbucks spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on Capitol Hill, including $100,000 last year to the Seattle law firm K&L Gates for lobbying related to food safety and menu labeling.

Its direct contributions to politicians are rare and include $2,000 to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and $500 to Washington Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, this year, according to a U.S. House of Representatives database.

The media attention around Schultz's political boycott began last week, when New York Times columnist Joe Nocera interviewed him about a letter he had sent to employees voicing frustration with politicians.

By the time Nocera talked to Schultz, the positive reaction from Starbucks workers and about 50 business leaders with whom he'd shared the email had prompted the coffee-shop king to suggest a boycott.

"America's leaders need to put their feet in the shoes of working Americans," he told Nocera. "Instead, all they think about is their own political self-interest."

Money was the way to reach them, Schlutz decided.

A Washington, D.C., nonprofit called Democracy 21, which works to reduce the impact of big money on politics, is behind him.

So is The New York Times' Nocera, who called it a longshot worth trying.

"What I particularly like about Schultz's idea is that it is not just another plea for compromise and civility, which does nothing to affect political behavior. It is hardheaded and practical, the kind of idea you would expect from a good businessman," he wrote.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com

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