A second working-class hero stepped out of the ranks of America’s elites and up to the national leadership plate Aug. 16, when Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told the two big political machines to get their act together or risk losing their favorite toy – huge political donations from big corporations.
Schultz gave squabbling Republicans and Democrats a very public “timeout.” His announcement follows a New York Times commentary from Warren Buffett on Aug. 13 that criticized lawmakers for coddling the mega-rich as if the were endangered “spotted owls” and called on them to let the nation’s millionaires pay their fair share of taxes just like everybody else.
Schultz announced that he was asking his fellow corporate leaders to “forgo political contributions until the Congress and the President return to Washington and deliver a fiscally disciplined long-term debt and deficit plan to the American people.” He spelled out his concerns in a letter that was passed on to members of the NYSE and Nasdaq, in which he railed against a political culture that has “chosen to put partisan and ideological purity (ahead of) the well being of the people.”
Standards & Poor’s, a national credit rating agency, downgraded the long-term outlook of the United States earlier this month in response to the acidic politicial posturing that marked the political debate about the federal debt ceiling.
The tone of political debate in Washington, D.C., has turned increasingly acrimonious since the battle over health care reform sparked creation of The Tea Party movement in 2009. The right-wing group was formed by GOP lobbyists soliciting donations from the health care industry and looking to channel populist disatisfaction with incumbent lawmakers in a manner constructive to their paymasters. However, the mainstream GOP no longer seems to be able to control its new wing.
Schultz said the letter was spurred by what he described as a failure of leadership on the part of federal lawmakers. Elected leaders in Washington have established themselves as a breed apart in recent years with hefty benefits and lax term limits that have allowed career politicians like U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) to remain in elected federal office for 40 consecutive years.
“I suspect in the coming days, people who will be signing the pledge with me will be both Republican and Democrat CEOs who have had enough,” Schultz told CNNMoney.
The amount of money spent to influence elections has surged the past decade as the parties have used so called soft-money donations to skirt limits that once capped campaign donations to individual candidates at $2,500 per donor. Soft money is a term for the unlimited gerneral donations that are now permitted to political parties.
The rise of unlimited donations – essentially legalized bribes – has allowed the influence of wealthy industries, corporations and individuals to eclipse that of the more numerous American middle class. Only 0.04% of Americans donate more than $200 to candidates, parties or political action committees, but their spending accounts for 64.8% of all contributions.
More than $5.2 billion was spent during the 2008 election cycle, according to data compiled by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. And 2012 is already poised to set a new record.
Much of the money is spent on advertising with large media organziations, which have little incentive to aggressively scrutinize a practice that is enriching them.
“All it seems people are interested in is re-election,” Schultz said. “And that re-election — the lifeblood of it is fundraising.”
The only thing missing from Schultz’s powerful and very welcome letter was a working-class catchphrase at the end. The Cynical Times recommends the line Chazz Palminteri made famous in the flm “A Bronx Tale.” The Bronx native portrayed mob boss Sonny LoSpecchio (left), who locked the door of a neighborhood social club after a motorcycle gang behaved rudely and memorably told the bikers still inside: “now youse can’t leave.”
Sonny and his crew then proceeded to beat the offending bikers like a drum set.
It seems to us that’s the essence of the message Schultz is trying to convey.