Starbucks CEO campaigns to end Washington gridlock

Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz (Reuters/Marcus R. Donner)

Starbucks Corp Chief Executive Howard Schultz called on Americans on Tuesday to deluge U.S. lawmakers with demands to end the partisan gridlock that he said is paralyzing Washington.

Schultz also urged lawmakers to focus on issues such as job creation and getting the country's finances in order.

"This is a moment in time when all Americans can become part of the solution by being heard. Step forward, do not be a bystander," Schultz said at an appearance in New York.

The so-called "tele-townhall" meeting was accessible by telephone and Internet, and hosted by No Labels, a nonpartisan group that presses lawmakers to put aside differences.

"We need to send a powerful message to Washington once and for all that we are not going to accept this kind of fractured leadership," Schultz told the meeting's more than 100,000 participants.

They identified themselves as students, school teachers, entrepreneurs and a former U.S. congressman from Texas.

Schultz, a registered Democrat whose political giving has leaned left, has no plans to run for office, Starbucks spokesman Jim Olson said.

The Starbucks CEO last month created political buzz when he called on business leaders to withhold campaign donations to the president and members of Congress until they strike a "fair, bipartisan" deal on the country's debt, revenue and spending.

In doing so, he tapped growing frustration with U.S. lawmakers, whom political pundits have criticized for inaction on major issues such as high unemployment, lagging global competitiveness and spiraling costs for social programs.

So far, nearly 17,000 people have pledged to withhold campaign contributions on the website upwardspiral2011.org. More than 100 current and retired business leaders are among the supporters, according to representatives for Schultz.

They include Whole Foods Market Inc co-CEO Walter Robb, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, J.C. Penney Co outgoing CEO Myron Ullman, diet drug developer Arena Pharmaceuticals Inc CEO Jack Lief and steel producer Nucor Corp CEO Daniel DiMicco.

Schultz, who recently returned the coffee chain to growth after a painful restructuring that included layoffs and cafe closures, also challenged executives to do their part to invest in new products or projects that will lower unemployment. More than 2,000 business leaders have signed on.

Schultz said U.S. lawmakers needed to "focus like a laser" on creating jobs.

The virtual townhall meeting came 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 jobs.

In the debt ceiling showdown this summer, disagreements over taxes and spending cuts pushed the United States to the brink of what would have been its first debt default. That ideological battle helped send consumer confidence to a more than three decade low, and was cited by Standard & Poor's when it downgraded the U.S. credit rating.