Politics of CEOs

    As Northwestern students, we have our standbys for surviving college. We research papers and assignments on Google. We buy books from Amazon, in order to shave a few dollars off the terrifying Norris price. We head to Whole Foods to stock up on late-night snacks and fresh fruit.

    But do we ever think about the political agendas we may be serving just by shopping at certain stores or using certain services? Many of these companies have PACs, or Political Action Committees, which provide a way for employees to donate money to political candidates.

    Big corporations have recently come together under an unusual political goal—to just stop giving. In August, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz demanded that CEOs boycott political contributions until politicians stop partisan gridlock in Congress and actually start thinking about the people and getting things done.

    More than 100 CEOs have signed the pledge, including Walter Robb, the co-CEO of Whole Foods. Furthermore, a previous CEO of Whole Foods wrote an inflammatory article in the Wall Street Journal providing his solution to American health care.

    Schultz’s movement has attracted the CEOs of AOL, Pinkberry and J. Crew, among others.

    What is unclear is whether or not the boycott will have any effect. Schultz’s boycott is sure to appeal more to liberal CEOs, which means the companies still contributing will have a conservative bias. With hundreds of CEOs and thousands of dollars out of the way due to the boycott, these conservative-leaning companies will have far more clout in politics than before, giving Republicans more resources to push their own policies. In the end, the boycott may have the opposite effect than Schultz hoped for.

    However, in recent weeks Schultz’s campaign has started involving more than just CEOs. His website, Upwardspiral2011.org, invites anyone with an email address to pledge to withhold contributions and hire more employees. Instead of just a plea for bipartisanship, Schultz is asking America to take back control of its own economy suggesting the government can’t do it for us. The Facebook page for Upward Spiral boasts more than 27,000 likes.

    Google, on the other hand, is not so interested in Starbucks’s initiative. While they heavily endorsed Obama during the 2008 campaign, POLITICO reports that Google has recently leaned more to the right.

    Even in the past few weeks, Google has been showing favoritism toward the GOP. It hosted the Republican presidential debate in conjunction with Fox News.

    Surprisingly,  POLITICO says that Google’s political flopping has brought about some cooperation between the parties. The Senate antitrust subcommittee has launched an investigation into Google to see if the company is using its power as a search engine to direct people back to Google products. Of the two politicians pushing for the hearing, one is a Democrat and the other a Tea Party Republican. In another confusing twist, Google’s political spending still leans toward the Democratic party.

    But what about the other huge companies whose products we unthinkingly use every day? According to OpenSecrets.org, since the 2004 election cycle, Amazon.com has leaned towards Democrats with their political contributions. In the 2012 election cycle, however, Amazon has been giving more to Republicans, though hardly any money has been spent so far. Newsmeat estimates that Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos has also skewed contributions towards Democratic campaigns . In the 2012 election cycle, however, Amazon has been giving more to Republicans, though hardly any money has been spent so far. Newsmeat estimates that Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos also favors the Democrats with his giving, reporting that of the $73,000 contributed, $16,000 has gone to Democratic candidates and only $2,000 has gone to Republican candidates, while $55,000 has gone to special interest contributions.

    Facebook, perhaps the most heavily used internet service among college students, has only just joined the world of political contributions. The Washington Post announced Tuesday that Facebook has created its own PAC.

    The committee, “will give our employees a way to make their voice heard in the political process by supporting candidates who share our goals of promoting the value of innovation to our economy while giving people the power to share and make the world more open and connected,” spokesman Andrew Noyes said in a e-mailed statement from the Washington Post.

    What about Microsoft and Apple, where we get our laptops and software for class? OpenSecrets.org charts Microsoft’s contributions as leaning Democratically from 2004 election cycle on. While Apple does not disclose its political contributions to the public, Newsmeat shows the contributions of recent CEO Steve Jobs to be almost entirely Democratic.

    Many of the companies whose products we use contribute to Democratic campaigns, with the exception of those who have joined Schultz’s boycott or Google, which is attempting to use politics to win the best possible outcome for their company.

    But what does all this throwing around or withholding of money have to do with us, lowly college students, without a cent to our names? Well, let’s be honest — we all have a little money, and where we choose to spend it may eventually affect which political candidates get the most money, resources and power. So if you’re choosing between two places to shop — say, CVS vs. Jewel Osco — you may want to check out what kind of political contributions each makes.

    These choices can make a real difference. In July, for example, Target donated $150,000 to MN Forward, a Minnesota company running TV ads for the anti-gay state Representative Tom Emmer. The backlash from the gay rights community caused the Target CEO to offer an apology.

    Even if you don’t consider yourself a political person, the choices you make — even choices as small as where to buy snacks — can affect the outcome of political elections. Sure, buying a bracelet at Urban Outfitters isn’t quite the same as voting, but the little things add up. So use your power as a consumer wisely!


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