Starbucks CEO calls for political tele-townhall

LOS ANGELES Fri Sep 2, 2011 6:58pm EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Starbucks Corp chief executive Howard Schultz urged Americans on Friday to join a giant "tele-townhall" next week to discuss ways to break the partisan gridlock in Washington.

In an open letter circulated via email, the head of the world's biggest coffee chain invited "concerned Americans" to take part in a national call-in conversation next Tuesday hosted by the nonpartisan group No Labels, dedicated to fostering cooperative and more effective government.

The group, based in Washington, hopes to draw "a couple hundred-thousand" citizens to join in the 90-minute "tele-townhall" with co-founders of the organization and Schultz, to be streamed live over the Internet, No Labels spokesman Dustin Carnevale said.

The teleconference comes ahead of a nationally televised Republican presidential debate on Wednesday, and President Barack Obama's Thursday address to a joint session of Congress on his plan for creating more jobs.

"Like so many of you, I am deeply disappointed by the pervasive failure of leadership in Washington," Schultz, himself a donor to mostly Democratic candidates and causes, wrote in the letter addressed: "Dear Starbucks Friend and Fellow Citizen."

"And also like you, I am frustrated by our political leaders' steadfast refusal to recognize 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," he said.

The letter concludes: "Yours is the voice that can help ignite the contagious upward spiral of confidence that our country desperately needs."

The message, sent first to customers on Starbucks' email distribution list under the subject: "A special letter from Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz," directed readers to a website with more information about the "No Labels" forum, at www.upwardspiral2011.org.

Last month, Schultz made headlines when he called on business leaders to pledge to withhold campaign contributions to the president and members of Congress until they reached a "fair, bipartisan deal" on the national debt, revenues and spending.

He also challenged those executives to do their part to invest in new projects or products that would help spur employment and give the national economy a much-needed jolt.

Schultz said in Friday's letter that more than 100 U.S. business executives from companies large and small have since signed on to his pledge.

President Obama and Congressional Republicans have been at odds for months over a range of issues. They narrowly averted closing down the federal government in April in a dispute over the budget, and pushed the federal government to the brink of defaulting on debt last month in a battle over taxes and spending cuts.

Schultz and his wife together donated $183,650 to federal candidates and political committees since the 1994 election cycle, according to federal campaign finance data tabulated by the nonpartisan research group Center for Responsive Politics, which closely tracks money in politics.

That sum includes $100,000 that went to the Democratic National Committee, while only $1,000 benefited a Republican, the presidential campaign bid of Arizona Senator John McCain in the 2000 election cycle.

According to the Seattle Times, Starbucks spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on Capitol Hill, including $100,000 last year to a law firm for lobbying related to food safety and menu labeling issues.

(Additional reporting by Eric Johnson; Editing by Greg McCune)

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