Are financial boycotts a legitimate tool to influence politics?

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is trying to persuade his fellow business leaders to suspend political donations until Congress comes up with a balanced plan to reduce the deficit. Today’s Question: Are financial boycotts a legitimate tool to influence politics?

  • Hiram

    There is nothing illegal about them, but coercion isn’t the best tool for persuasion.

  • James

    As long as wealthy corporations have a strong vested influence (often for benefit of the few to detriment of many) let’s play it in favor of a Win-win (or no deal) … and legalize hemp at the same time while we’re at it.

  • Alison

    Absolutely! And let’s hope corporations can keep coming up with reasons to boycott giving to campaigns.

  • Garyf


    It would also be good if union members had a choice to hold back union dues that go to political candidates without getting pressure from union management.

  • John

    We should eliminate all corporate and lobby funding to politicians. That would change the influence the Israeli lobby has on our whole political system. They are one of the largest contributors to both major political parties.

  • Joanna

    I don’t get this question. On one level, since corporations have been accorded that status of persons by the Supreme Court and are thus entitled to spend millions influencing politicians, shouldn’t this also give them the right to withhold their spending, just as individuals do, as a way to influence politics? If massive contributions are legal, then a spending boycott is just another (legal) form of influence.

    On the other hand, one may questions the wisdom, the morality, or the ethics of this Supreme Court decision and its impact on our democratic process because it gives corporations an influence on politics far beyond that of actual people, unless they unite as PACS, but the use of money to influence politics is currently absolutely legal.

    Boycotting companies to influence their decisions is also a tool of citizen action, and one of the few ways that citizens have of collectively trying to influence corporations. I consider that to be legitimate.

  • Rich in Duluth

    No, because the whole concept of corporations influencing politics by giving or withholding large quantities of money is wrong. It’s wrong because the ability of big business to pour money into campaigns, concentrates too much influence in those businesses. Individual citizens do not have the money to purchase that much influence and, thus, do not have sufficient power to shape government to benefit them.

    I favor publically financed political campaigns and a return to the media providing equal time or advertising space to the candidates.

  • Rich

    Although it seemed to work to work well with my children. I am not that convinced that it’s effective with nation-states.

  • Philip

    That’s like asking if politics itself is legitimate.

  • Steve the Cynic

    Withholding money to influence Congress is exactly as legitimate as giving money to influence Congress.

    In America, the government doesn’t use money; money uses the government.

  • Steve the Cynic

    Philip, politics is legitimate. In principle, politics is the peaceful resolution of competing interests. It’s the way we do politcs these days that’s the problem.

  • Larry M

    Yes, in this country, money=speech by law. And now will this horrible, horrible, horrible ruling that corporations are citizens it is even more important that real citizens and organizations speak with their dollars.

    A corporation or the act of incorporating is just a way to raise funds and limit individual responsibility and liability and requires that the leaders of the corporations only act in ways that produce profits for their shareholders, nothing about being good citizens.

  • uptownZombie

    Financial boycotts can be a great tool, but I think once we enter the political world their impact falters and reduces to almost nothing. As long as a political organization is allowed to pull money from absolutely anywhere then the single transactions being pulled from one area or another doesn’t have as great an impact.

    It is my opinion that corporations shouldn’t be allowed to donate to political organizations or politicians in the first place.

  • Philip

    @Steve the Cynic: you responded in exactly the way I was looking for. It all depends on who you ask.

  • Glenn

    I’ve done this very thing with private firms- just for my own self respect!!


  • barracuda

    if money = speech, does this amount to corporations not talking to congress?

    hmm… if money = speech, can i pay for goods and services by simply talking up a company to my friends, providing them free advertising, instead of parting with cash?

  • GregX

    Yes – absolutely and further more any/all of us who are shareholders should be demanding that companies that we own stock in get our approval for where they spend any money they do put into politics. If – as Mitt Romney states, companies are people ( singlular) representing people (plural) then second group needs to start exercising its control over its collective will. Power to the People!

  • GregX

    GARYF- “It would also be good if union members had a choice to hold back union dues that go to political candidates without getting pressure from union management.” ================================================ yup and corporate shareholders ought to have that same right – in fact they should be able to dictate where that money goes when it is spent..

  • vivian

    //In principle, politics is the peaceful resolution of competing interests.

    What a lovely principle. Um, or theory?

    However, in reality politics are a way to control a dense population of people within smaller areas whether it is done by means of manipulation (persuasion) or coersion. Both require a skill in illusion making.

  • Steve the Cynic

    Yes, Vivian, that is indeed what politics is supposed to be in a constitutional republic like ours. As messy as it is, it’s still less bad than the alternative, which is to be tyrannized by warlords. The winner-take-all, destroy-the-opposition behavior we’ve seen among politicians lately (especially in the Republican party, ironically) is warlordism creeping into our political system. If we voters don’t wake up and demand better soon, we’re going to lose our republic.

  • vivian

    Furthermore, the Green Party limits contribution size to $20,000. Plus, they will only accept donations from individuals and not corporations.

    So why can’t a law be created that all politcal parties operate in this way.

    I think it would even the playing field. Campaign time would decrease and the public would have to deal less with political campaign scheming and mudslinging.

  • FH

    The whole point of boycotts is to try to influence decisions and actions. Why would this not be legitimate. I do want to provide some information on the top contributors/donors from 1989-2010.

    1. Act Blue – they bill themselves as an online clearinghouse for Democratic action

    2. American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees

    3. AT&T

    4. National Association of Realtors

    5. Service Employees Union

    6. National Education Association

    7. American Association for Justice

    8. Int’l Brotherhood of Electrical workers

    9. Laborers Union

    10. American Federation of Teachers

    Three of these groups are contributing with tax payer money. If people are going to talk about shareholders having a say on how companies contribute money, than the same should apply to govt unions that use taxpayer money. The other point is that lobbying is not clearly tilted to Republicans as 8 of the top 10 contributors are clearly Democratic leaning.

  • Steve the Cynic

    “…companies are people ( singlular) representing people (plural)…”

    Actually, no. Corporations are legal fictions, mere pieces of paper filed in county courthouses. They were invented as a way to make certain aspects of doing business easier than they would be if only real human beings were allowed to own stuff and make contracts. They have only those rights We the People choose to give them through our political system. Companies are run by people, employ people, affect people, but are not themselves people. The fact that they have become in many cases more powerful than the people is a sign that something has gone wrong, and We the People should demand change.

  • EAL

    While finanical boycotts one method to to influence the political landscape, perhaps an alternative method would be for all citizens to read the Declearation of Independence to understand the depth to which the colonists wanted the crown out of their lives, then read the U.S. Constitution to understand the limited role the federal governement should play. Perhaps if Congress recoginized that it cannot be all things to all people, the deficit issue would not be an issue. It is sad and it is frightenting how many people have not read the most vital document in the history of governments to understand negative rights.

  • Tom Baxter

    In theory, the use of financial boycotts to influence policy is exactly as legitimate as using financial donations to influence policy. That is to say, it has the same ethical standing as bribery and graft. Donations (or withholding them) is supposed to express support for candidates, not “influence policy”.

    Practically, withholding donations in this case will defund only those candidates who, in the past, have had support from the most responsible donors, while people who support stonewallers will continue to send their bribes . . . or rather, “contributions” . . . to the all least responsible politicians.

  • Kim

    Perhaps MPR and NPR should look into which 504 c groups were mobilized to boycott those in the media that they see as opposition to their agenda?

    Do a check to see how many of George Soros’ groups boycotted FOX and their affiliates! sad but true.

  • KIM

    Should we all boycott campaign donations to the DFL because Vice President ” understands” China’s one child policy?

    Here is a take that NPR received on that issue:

    One couple – Liang Yage and his wife Wei Linrong, told NPR in an interview that they thought they could keep their second child if they paid a fine. But when Wei was seven months pregnant, ten “family planning officials” showed up at their house and told her “If you don’t go [to the hospital], we’ll carry you.”

    Wei told NPR:

    “I was scared. The hospital was full of women who’d been brought in forcibly. There wasn’t a single spare bed. The family planning people said forced abortions and forced sterilizations were both being carried out. We saw women being pulled in one by one.”

    The officials then gave Wei three injections in her lower abdomen, and after 16 hours of contractions, she gave birth to a stillborn baby boy.

    “The nurses dealt with the body like it was rubbish,” Wei said. “They wrapped it up in a black plastic bag and threw it in the trash.”

  • Steve the Cynic

    Interesting. I’ve noticed contributions to these pages under multiple names that all sound like right wing hotheads, all use similar vocabulary and phraseology, and all make the same curious little mistake– referring to the national Democratic party as the “DFL.” (It’s DFL only in Minnesota.) How many different people do you suppose are actually writing those screeds?

  • Vivian

    screed: a lengthy discourse, rant or a leveling device drawn over freshly poured concrete.

    hard to choose which one is the proper definition.

    What I want to know is what is the “Declearation of Independence”?

    Is that like the deforestation practices that have taken place in the south american rain forests, thus, leaving the indigenous people dependent on government?

    Also, I am perplexed as too what are negative rights? Do too negative rights make a positive right? or are negative rights a group of ill-willed republicans?

  • Jim B.

    Most definitely. But first a clarification. This proposed boycott is not for the purpose of influencing politics. Its purpose is to get Congress to do its job. If Congress would do its job and do it for the benefit of all Americans, elected officials would not have to worry about their re-elections, and they wouldn’t have to spend all their time in office campaigning.

    I personally feel that all businesses, unions, individuals, etc. should stop donating to politicians anyway. There is way too much money in politics as it is, and all that money could be spent on much more important things, such as education, the truly needy, infrastructure, etc., etc., etc. Political advertising is typically worthless for creating truly informed opinions. I ignore all of it. I listen to all the political debates I can on public radio and feel like I am a truly informed and well-educated voter. I am assuming that public radio and public TV debates cost the politicians nothing. They can get their messages across much more cost-effectively than they currently do, and, like I said, there are plenty of good places for all that extra money that would really just be wasted on political advertising.

  • Jamie

    “It would also be good if union members had a choice to hold back union dues that go to political candidates without getting pressure from union management.”

    Union members do have a choice about that. It’s the law, and unions comply with it. And union leaders do NOT “pressure” anybody — you’re living back in the 1950s or something.

  • Steve the Cynic

    Just guessing, Vivian, but I think “declearation” was nothing more than a typo.

    As for “negative rights,” although the term is used by grumpy conservatives, it does not refer to them. It’s a technical term that makes a distiction between two sorts of rights that are often asserted. Negative rights are ones that guarantee freedom from certain sorts of government interference with personal liberty. The rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights are all of this sort. Positive rights are ones that entail a societal obligation to provide something to each of its members. For instance, Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts a right to an education. My guess is that the writer who mentioned “negative rights” on this page was one of those who believes that “positive rights” are not legitimate and are only asserted by whiny liberals who just want to expand the role of government.

  • vivian

    ///My guess is that the writer who mentioned “negative rights” on this page was one of those who believes that “positive rights” are not legitimate and are only asserted by whiny liberals who just want to expand the role of government.

    You’re on a roll with this thread Stevo-

    So with you comment in mind, I can only imagine that if we played fairly, and all people had access to what is described in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights there would likely be less whining from those ill-willed conservatives. That is if they don’t get their pleasures out of watching others suffer, which sometimes I wonder.

    Greed and power make people do funny things, and like Jim mentioned, “there are plenty of good places for all that extra money that would really just be wasted on political advertising.”

  • Steve the Cynic

    No, there’d be more whining from them, because it would be harder for them to hoard wealth and widen the income gap.

  • Al

    \\Three of these groups are contributing with tax payer money.

    FH – Which ones from your list?

    The contention during the budget standoff in WI that union dues from govenrment workers contributed by payroll deduction was taxpayer money is pure hogwash. If it comes out of MY PAYCHECK it is MY MONEY, not my employer’s money. It ceased being the employer’s money when it was given to me as part of my salary. These sorts of blatant lies are destroying this country and go against all this nation stands for. They are shameful and un-American.