Howard Schultz's Political-Donation Boycott Doesn't Keep Money From Bad Politicians

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has made quite a show out of his call for business leaders to stop donating money to Washington politicians until they quit being horrible.

Recently he convinced more than 100 such titans of industry to join him in pledging to turn off the cash spigot.

But does Schultz's boycott actually prevent its oath-takers from donating to the pols at the heart of the Washington problem?

Of course not. It just lines more pockets along the way.

Nowhere in Schultz's pledge does he ask that people stop donating to Political Action Committees, groups that amass huge amounts of money, then funnel it, typically, directly to politicians much as individuals do (though with far fewer rules and limits).

And nowhere does the pledge ask that people not donate to non-incumbents--folks who typically are incumbents in other offices, but are simply looking to upgrade.

Not to mention that the actual corporations run by the individuals signing the pledges are individuals themselves, according to the Supreme Court, and can donate as they see fit (often without the blessing of a CEO).

Responding to questions from Seattle Weekly, Schultz spokesman Alan Hilowitz says that the "spirit" of the boycott pledge seeks to stop people from donating to PACs, but that there's nothing in the vow that specifically addresses them: "Although it is not specifically stated in the pledge, the spirit of the pledge implies that supporters would discontinue donations to any entity (including direct and indirect PACs)."

A look at campaign disclosure reports shows most of the CEOs on Schultz's list with a long history of donating to PACs, committees, and other groups that would easily land in the massive loophole left in the boycott pledge.

The latest campaign disclosure reports account for donations through June 30--prior to when Schultz made his boycott call on Aug. 14. Thus it's impossible to see just yet if any of the CEOs on the list have skirted the pledge by giving to PACs and other back-channel cash funnelers.

But there is a precedent for the old donation switcheroo. Before the 2010 election, folks may recall that many Republicans became quite disenchanted with then-RNC Chairman Michael Steele's stewardship of the party.

There were calls to boycott giving to the RNC, and many Republicans made much hay of signing onto the boycott. But amid the mutiny, a host of conservative PACs stepped into the void and raked in the cash.

The result was essentially the same. Money went to politicians all the same, only an ideological group decided where it went instead of individual donors.

Oh, and with the PACs, much of the money was impossible to trace. With Schultz's boycott that model is set for a repeat.

So when big-name business leaders come out with hearty pats for their own backs about "changing the system," keep in mind that the system itself provides plenty of ways to remain unchanged while still letting folks like Schultz pretend to own the moral high ground

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