The counterproductive ‘no donations’ pledge

I can appreciate why business leaders may want to use their influence to help shape the political debate. I can also appreciate why they’d see value in creating incentives for policymakers to act responsibly.

I can’t appreciate counterproductive stunts like these.

More than 100 business leaders have signed on to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s pledge to stop making donations to incumbents until Washington gridlock eases, sending a message to lawmakers that they must make real progress in reining in deficit spending.
“As many of our political leaders campaign and vacation, the U.S. economy remains in a cycle of fear and uncertainty,” Schultz wrote in a Wednesday letter addressed to “fellow leaders.” And his initiative, he said, has “triggered a national dialogue and a groundswell of support” since he launched it last week.

In all, more than 100 business leaders have agreed to the pledge, which not only has leaders agreeing to stop campaign contributions until lawmakers “strike a bipartisan, balanced long-term debt deal that addresses both entitlements and revenues,” but also has the leaders agreeing to find ways to accelerate job growth in their companies and the economy as a whole.

For crying out loud, do these folks not keep up on the details of current events?

Let’s see, they’re looking for an economic package that includes long-term debt-reduction, entitlement “reforms,” additional revenue, and measures intended to boost short-term economic growth.

If this economic wish list sounds familiar, it’s because it’s what President Obama already wants and is pushing for.

But these business leaders aren’t contributing to Obama or Democrats for agreeing with them; the business leaders are instead refusing to contribute to anyone until the agenda is approved.

If there’s any kind of strategic, policy-driven thinking here, I don’t see it. If these wealthy folks said, “We’ll only donate to candidates who agree to pursue our preferred agenda,” that would certainly make sense. It might even create an incentive for policymakers (“I want the contributions, so I should be more open to the kind of compromise the business leaders are demanding”).

But that’s not the message at all. The captains of industry surely realize that they’re on the same page as the president, but instead of rewarding their allies for agreeing with them, the business leaders are withholding support from everyone. Republicans have made it clear they reject nearly every aspect of this wish list — the GOP opposes compromise, a balanced approach to debt reduction, and short-term stimulus — but Howard Schultz and his partners don’t seem to care.

Kevin Drum concluded, “My guess is that the GOP leadership is laughing its ass off over this.” I can only assume the same. Whomever these business leaders contacted for political guidance gave them some very poor advice.