Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said he has been “stunned” by the response to his call for a boycott on political donations in response to Washington’s poor handling of the debt-ceiling issue.
“We’ve touched a nerve,” said the CEO of the coffee behemoth on Wednesday in an exclusive interview with TheWrap. “There’s such a groundswell of disappointment and concern with regard to the leadership in Washington and crisis of confidence that we have.”
He called for a suspension of donations to all incumbents, including President Obama, until a proper deal on the debt is achieved. He said he would announce a list of corporate leaders who had signed on to the no-donation pledge next week.
Complications have emerged from Schultz’s initiative, in which some are worried about imbalance if supporters of only one party participate. A Starbucks spokesman said that was being addressed, and an escrow account for donations was under consideration.
Schultz told TheWrap that he has been deluged by emails and phone calls from corporate leaders and regular Americans in response to his call this week for a bipartisan ban on all political donations until a complete agreement on the debt deal is reached.
“What has surprised me the most is emails I’ve received from so many American people, working people,” he said. “These are people I don’t know, and will never meet who’ve lost their jobs, lost their house. These stories would make you cry. They don’t have a voice.”
The Washington brinksmanship resulted in a stopgap solution for increasing the debt ceiling that has angered the country and led to a downgrade in the nation’s credit rating by Standard & Poor’s.
“What I’m trying to do is through the lens of bipartisanship send a signal about the need for civility, and the absolute sense of urgency that Congress or president don’t seem to have,” Schultz said.
“All those people should be in Washington. I don’t begrudge them a vacation — but not in a crisis.”
President Obama is expected to go on vacation Aug. 18.
In his call to action, Schultz also invited corporate leaders to improve the country’s economic climate by committing to create jobs individually in their companies.
He said Starbucks, which a few years ago shed several thousand jobs during the economic downturn, would accelerate store openings in the United States to create jobs this year.
The company hired 36,000 people since January, according to a spokesman, an increase of 15 percent over the previous year. Some 3,700 of those were new positions, the rest were through employee turnover.
Schultz said that he was moved to call for the boycott out of frustration with Washington.
“There’s a seismic change in the cause and effect of a lack of leadership in Washington,” he said. “The S&P downgrade, while a reflection of the balance sheet, is as much a reflection of the dysfunctionality and lack of confidence in political system. There has to be a change.”
Schultz said he was worried that the lack of confidence could spread through global markets, and prolong economic decline.
But he is not the only corporate leader calling for action. This week Warren Buffett called for higher taxes for the super-rich, including himself.
Schultz said he had spoken to Buffett this week, but would not say if the billionaire would join his pledge.
(Editorial disclosure: Schultz is an investor in the venture capital fund that has invested in TheWrap.)