Boosting Campaign Coffers with Coffee Cash – Crunching Starbucks Political Contributions

  • By Emil Pitkin

We’re back with GovPredict’s fifth installment of political contribution analysis of some of America’s best-known brands and major corporations. This time, with the recent announcement of his 2020 Independent exploratory campaign for president, we break down the political contributions of Howard Schultz‘s coffee kingdom, Starbucks. So grab a cup of your favorite Joe and take a glance as we examine all political contributions made by Starbucks donors — tall, grande, and everything in between.

As a quick reminder on our methodology, we’ve analyzed records from the Federal Election Commission (FEC), every state’s campaign contribution portal, campaign disclosures from major cities (including Seattle), and IRS disclosures of contributions to 527 organizations. We considered every variant of “Starbucks” that employees list on their employee/occupation field, including “sbux,” “Starbucks Seattle WATARBUCKS, (sic)” “Starbucks Coffree Co” (sic), “Starbucks Coffe Co” (sic), “Starbucks Corporation,” and “Starbucks Coffee Co,” and 80 others, going back to the 2004 election cycle.

There were 618 unique committees that Starbucks employees have contributed to. We categorized every one as Republican or Democratic; non-partisan judges’ races were excluded for this partisan analysis; causes affiliated with a particular party’s platform, such as gun control, were appropriately categorized.

As always, it’s important to note that the findings refer to those Starbucks employees who actually contribute. As of last year, Starbucks employed more than 238,000 people; just about 1,500 Starbucks employees have made political contributions.

Pundits and talking heads pounced (!) as soon as Schultz announced his Independent exploratory bid for the Oval Office. He received a significant amount of criticism (mostly from Democrats) for deciding to run as an Independent, spurning the D next to his name he’s been affiliated with for years. This I-candidacy will risk siphoning likely Democratic votes, they said, and possibly hand President Trump a re-election victory. However the future may play out, Schultz was previously a registered Democrat, and the itemized contributions from Starbucks employees closely mimic their boss’s preferences.


Party Preferences

Once contributions are separated out by political affiliation, the difference in total amounts received by candidates and committees is striking.

– Since 2004, Democratic candidates, campaign committees, and 527 groups have received approximately $1,090,936 (Roughly 88% of all Starbucks related contributions.) On the opposite side, Republican candidates, campaigns, and 527 groups received only $156,006 (12%).

– The presidential election of 2012 marked the high water mark for donations for both parties: Democrats and Democratic committees and groups received $378,214, while their Republican counterparts received  $55,857.

– Following up with the recent midterm elections in 2016, Starbucks Democrats once again far outspent Starbucks Republicans; $306,414 (D) to only $10,792 (R). That’s a 97% to 3% advantage.

– One bright spot for Republicans was the 2010 midterms, where GOP candidates, committees, and 527s received $46,008, compared to only $37,884 for Democrats – a squeaker of a ‘win’ for the GOP.

Major Individual Contributors?
It’s not surprising that some of the largest political contributors given by Starbucks employees are among the high-earning top echelon of senior level management and C-Suiters.

The top giver to Democratic candidates, committees, and associated 527s since 2004 is Paula Boggs, an executive in Washington State – donating a total of $230,142.

Mr. Schultz himself has contributed a total of $176,500, of which $85,050 (81%) went to Democratic candidates and aligned groups, and $20,250 (19%) went to Republicans. $71,200 of Schultz’s political contributions went to non-partisan groups, including $50,000 to With Honor Fund, a military veterans candidate committee.

The 2nd highest giver from Starbucks was former President and CEO Orin Smith, who donated a total of $88,800. Mr. Smith passed away last year.

Additional top Starbucks Democratic donors include EVP Rossann Williams ($72,100), EVP Lucy Lee Helm ($38,215), and ousted former CEO Jim Donald ($20,900).

Anne McGonigle
(VP Financial Planning and Development, $11,750), Paul Engskov (President Global Channel Development, $11,300), Amy Crede (Partner Resources Mgr, $10,530), and Levi Rundell (Account Executive, $10,000) round out the five-figure donors.

But don’t feel too bad Republicans! Starbucks’ GOP Big Guns were led by Starbucks Senior Manager John Kelly, who has donated $23,800 to Republican candidates and committees.

The other two major Republican donors from Starbucks include Peter Gibbons, the former Executive Vice President of Global Supply for Starbucks, who has given $20,000, and Lori Punke, a Starbucks Senior Director, who has donated $12,350.

Regional / State Breakdown
In total, state campaigns and election groups from 42 states have received contributions from Starbucks employees since 2004.

– When examining the origins of these Starbucks-related contributions, it won’t surprise anyone that the most contributions from employees of the Seattle-based coffee behemoth came from Washington. The Evergreen State leads all others with Dem candidates and groups receiving $841,596. Washington Republicans have given $118,792.

– The state far back in 2nd place for Democrat candidates, committees, and 527 groups is California with $34,099, followed by New Mexico with $33,602.

– On the GOP side, the runner-up state is also California with $9,253, and Texas coming in 3rd-place for Republican candidates and groups with only $5,011 in contributions.

– Lastly of interest, we examined records to look into local and state elections as well. Since 2006, Democratic candidates in local elections were the recipients of a staggering 99% of all Starbucks itemized employee contributions going to local candidates. On the state level, that Democrat-favored percentage drops to 77%.

Howard Schultz has already publicly stated that if he recognizes there is no path to victory for him in 2020 he will drop out of (or not officially join) the race. And the early polling suggests he would have a rough time even breaking into double digits. Polling also shows he would likely pull more votes from a Democrat candidate than from President Trump – the situation most analysts have described.

There are still several months to go before any 2020 election picture becomes clear, and Shultz may very likely not run for president after all. But any examination of Starbucks employees and their political giving habits makes clear they overwhelmingly support Democrats and Democratic committees and groups.

And of course, Schultz could always self-fund…

Emil Pitkin

Emil is CEO of GovPredict. He earned his BA in Mathematics from Harvard and his PhD in Statistics from the Wharton School, where he is the winner of the award for top professor. He is an alumnus of elite Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator and has played Carnegie Hall.