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Starbucks CEO's Political Stance Resonates


By the Financial Times ( Financial Times) -- A campaign led by Howard Schultz, Starbucks chief executive, that calls on top executives to halt political donations to Washington lawmakers is gaining momentum, in a sign of the deep frustration felt by some business leaders about political paralysis and dysfunction in the U.S. capital.

Schultz said in a letter on Wednesday that more than 100 business leaders had signed on to a two-part pledge he unveiled last week, which seeks an end to political donations to incumbent lawmakers until a bipartisan debt reduction deal is agreed by Congress, and urges the executives to accelerate employment at their companies. Among top executives who signed the pledge are Duncan Niederauer of the NYSE, Walter Robb, co-chief executive of Whole Foods, Myron Ullman, the head of JC Penney, and Barry Sternlicht, who leads Starwood Capital Group.

The chief executive of the global coffee chain is asking Congress to reach a debt reduction deal that would both address government spending on expensive programmes such as Medicare and Medicaid and increase revenue, although the pledge is not specific about the kinds of tax increases an agreement should include.

"As many of our political leaders campaign and vacation, the U.S. economy remains in a cycle of fear and uncertainty," Mr Schultz said in a letter. "I'm encouraged that many of you agree there is a way to break this cycle of fear."

He added that the initiative represented an opportunity for organisations and businesses who share the goal of "putting country above partisanship".

While it is too early to say whether the pledge will ultimately cut into lawmakers' coffers, Schultz's activism is symbolically important because it exposes the growing dissatisfaction among business leaders with wrangling among lawmakers.

The sense of gridlock in Washington seemed to reach new heights this summer as the Republican-led House of Representatives and White House tussled over an agreement to increase the U.S. debt ceiling. A deal reached in the 11th hour saved the US from a default on its debts, but not before testing the U.S. markets and voters' faith in the Congress and Barack Obama.

Standard & Poor's, the ratings agency, downgraded the U.S. in the wake of the debt ceiling debacle, in part because it said it doubted the ability of the political system to confront the challenge of rising debt loads.

The U.S. president is expected to unveil his own jobs plan in early September, as is Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate. The White House said on Wednesday that Obama talked to General Electric chief executive Jeffrey Immelt and Ken Chenault, the American Express chief, on a conference call.

The men co-chair Obama's jobs council and are preparing a new push to increase the number of engineers that graduate from American institutions. The council is also discussing a plan to put more construction workers back to work through a programme to upgrade buildings to make them more energy efficient. Obama, who is on vacation in Martha's Vineyard, has also spoken with billionaire investor Warren Buffett and Ford executive Alan Mulally to discuss economic issues.

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