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Starbucks can still do the right thing

A photo of Public Citizen's Kelly Ngo and WashPIRG activist Chris Esh deliver signatures to Starbucks' Seattle headquarters.
Public Citizen’s Kelly Ngo and WashPIRG activist Chris Esh deliver signatures to Starbucks’ Seattle headquarters.

During a rare hour of sunshine in Seattle last Tuesday, good governance groups gathered outside of the nation’s first Starbucks in Pikes Place market to ask CEO Howard Schultz to take the lead with his company and push back against corporate money in elections.

The occasion? Starbucks’ annual shareholder meeting.

Public Citizen, WashPIRG and others were on hand to support a shareholder resolution filed by Harrington Investments asking the company to refrain from all election-related spending.

As Public Citizen’s representative, I lauded Schultz’s past leadership on the issue of money in politics, implored him to act on the connection between corporate spending in elections and our dysfunctional government back in Washington, D.C., and delivered more than 23,000 signatures from the petition urging Starbucks to take a stand against corporate political spending. Erin Larkin of WashPIRG spoke on behalf of Starbucks consumers, saying, “When we buy a dark roast we don’t want to fund dark money groups.”

Starbucks shareholders from Green Century Capitol Management and NewGround Social Investment also took to the mic to explain how taking a stance against corporate money in elections would be good for company and why spending corporate funds in elections is risky business.

Nevertheless, Starbucks’ management advised shareholders to vote against the resolution. From an article in Fox Business:

Starbucks’ board recommended its shareholders vote against the ban, saying it would impact the company’s ability to educate elected officials about its business, promote public policies “critical to delivering long-term value for our shareholders,” and “potentially put us at a marked disadvantage relative to our competitors who are able to participate in the political process.”

The claim that shareholders would be served by political spending in the long term is flimsy at best, considering recent studies showing that political donations may negatively affect returns for investors.

While taking a stance against corporate money in elections would have cemented Starbucks as a company dedicated to fair and open elections, Howard Schultz and Starbucks can still do the right thing and adopt this policy. If Schultz’s true goal, (as he says), is to push Congress to work on the people’s agenda, then adopting a no-spending in elections policy – and urging his corporate CEO peers to do the same – is the next logical step.

Kelly Ngo is the legislative assistant for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. For more about the Corporate Reform Coalition, follow @CorporateReform on Twitter.

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