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Starbucks chief invites Americans to join in ‘town hall debate’ – by phone

Howard Schultz sponsors nationwide telephone forum aimed at giving ordinary US citizens a voice on Washington spending

Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz will step up his campaign to end partisan bickering in Washington with a nationwide telephone “town hall meeting” aimed at giving “concerned Americans” a voice.

Schultz has taken out full-page ads in the US press inviting people to join the teleconference on Tuesday night, hosted by non-partisan group No Labels, in an attempt to pressurise politicians into ending the gridlock the Starbucks boss says is causing “paralysis and uncertainty”.

Schultz has faced criticism since he invited fellow CEOs last month to join him in withholding contributions from Washington incumbents until they agreed a debt deal to turn round the economy.

But the campaign has gathered momentum, and now claims the backing of more than 100 business leaders, including AOL boss Tim Armstrong and Millard Dextrer, chairman and CEO of J Crew.

The telephone forum, due to begin at 7.30pm EST, comes in a week that will be dominated by the political battle over the economy. Republican presidential hopefuls hold their second debate on Wednesday, the day before Barack Obama outlines his plans to tackle the jobs crisis.

In the newspaper ads, Schultz wrote: “Dear fellow citizens, I love our country. And I am a beneficiary of the promise of America. But today, I am very concerned that at times I do not recognise the America that I love.”

Schultz said he was “deeply disappointed by the pervasive failure of leadership in Washington,” and “our political leaders’ steadfast refusal to recognise that, for every day they perpetuate partisan conflict and put ideology over country, America and Americans suffer from the combined effects of paralysis and uncertainty.”

Schultz last month called for fellow CEOs and other donors to withhold contributions until politicians set aside their posturing and sought common ground on fiscal issues, including the national debt.

In his letter, Schultz said more than 100 US business executives from companies “large and small” have since signed up to his two-part pledge: “First, to withhold political campaign contributions until a
transparent, comprehensive, bipartisan debt and deficit package is
reached.” And second, to do “all we can to break the cycle of economic
uncertainty that that grips our country by committing to accelerate
investment in jobs and hiring”.

JC Penney chairman Myron Ullman has also backed Schulz’s campaign.

Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a campaign finance reform group, said he was hopeful the campaign would gain momentum.

“I’ve been doing this for 40 years and I don’t think things have ever been this dysfunctional,” he said.

“Political money plays a central role in the inability of Washington to get anything done. It’s not the only factor but it’s a major one.”

Wertheimer said Schultz was “providing business leaders with a vehicle and an opportunity to speak out”.

Schultz himself has not been a particularly generous political donor. The billionaire boss has given just over 7,000 to politicians since 1996, according to, a site that tracks political contributions.

Democrats have been the biggest recipients of Schultz’s largesse. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds