By SARAH SKIDMORE
AP Food Industry Writer
PORTLAND, Ore. — Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz changed how America drinks coffee. Now, he wants to change the political system.
The leader of the coffee giant says U.S. political leaders have created a “crisis of confidence” with their political wrangling that is wreaking havoc on the economy. He said he wants to give a voice to all citizens by hosting a national telephone forum on Tuesday.
He’s also running ads in the New York Times and USA Today ahead of the event, featuring an open letter that urges Americans to participate in the forum and insist politicians end their hyper-partisan behavior.
“We must send the message to today’s elected officials ... that the time to put citizenship ahead of partisanship is now,” Schultz said in the letter.
The forum comes weeks after Schultz called on other CEOs to halt contributions to U.S. political campaigns until the nation’s leaders become financially disciplined and stop their political wrangling. The CEOs of more than 100 companies, from AOL to Zipcar, joined Schultz in his pledge to halt contributions and do what they could to stimulate growth in their industries.
Schultz, who heads Seattle-based Starbucks, which operates more than 17,000 stores globally, said he was moved to hold the forum after receiving hundreds of emails and letters from citizens. They were struggling to find jobs, keep their homes or send their children to school given the economic conditions.
“It looks like we struck a nerve with so many people,” Schultz told the Associated Press. “I feel a personal responsibility to create a public dialogue and make a voice for people who feel like they can’t be heard.”
The forum will be hosted by nonpartisan group No Labels and held the same week as the GOP presidential debate and the President’s address to a joint session of Congress to share his plan for job creation.
“America is at a fragile and critical moment in its history,” Schultz said in his letter. “We must restore hope in the American Dream.”
While it’s a divisive time in politics, analysts don’t anticipate the move will have any negative impact on the company’s bottom line. “Even if someone doesn’t agree with his personal opinion, it is unlikely to send them elsewhere for coffee,” said Bart Glenn, an analyst with D.A. Davidson.