Dunkin’ says Howard Schultz’s run is ‘healthy for our democracy’

The coffee company is staying out of the debate between the former Starbucks CEO and Elizabeth Warren. But that doesn't mean Dunkin' never dips into politics.

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz during an appearance this week on Fox News. –Richard Drew / AP

Dunkin’ may be the go-to coffee stop of presidential primary candidates campaigning through New Hampshire. But the Canton-based company is staying out of the brewing clash of coffee moguls following former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s criticism of their home-state senator, Elizabeth Warren.

After announcing that he might run for president in 2020 as an independent, Schultz has repeatedly gone after the Massachusetts Democrat and fellow potential 2020 candidate, calling her proposed wealth tax “ridiculous” and labeling her progressive ideas a precursor to “socialism.” However, it turns out Warren has a wealthy coffee mogul in her corner.

“I first met Howard in 1984 and he’s done a lot for coffee, but right now he’s out of his depth on a vanity run for the presidency,” Todd Carmichael, the CEO and co-founder of the Philadelphia-based La Colombe Coffee Roasters, said in an interview with Politico this week.

Advertisement

Carmichael — who donated $5,400 to Warren’s re-election effort last year, according to Federal Election Commission data — has spoken out against fellow CEOs running for president. The 55-year-old millionaire told Politico that he offered to hit the campaign trail for Warren, arguing that progressive economic proposals would harm businesses like his 30-cafe coffee chain and retailer.

“I am not afraid to say that I want to be taxed more,” he said. “I want better schools. I want people to have better access to health care.”

Dunkin’, for its part, declined to take sides in the debate, but says it supports the healthy policy debate.

“The great thing about our country is that people from all walks of life have the opportunity to seek election to public office,” the company said in a statement to Boston.com. “It’s healthy for our democracy to have people put their names forward and offer differing positions on the issues we face.”

But if you think that means Dunkin’ doesn’t get involved politics, you’d be mistaken.

According to FEC filings, the 12,500-location company has used their political action committee, Dunkin’ Brands, Inc. PAC, to donate tens of thousands of dollars to political candidates each election cycle since 2008.

Advertisement

Compared to the spending of the top PACs, who donate millions each year to candidates, Dunkin’s political spending has been modest. Their contributions have also been consistently bipartisan.

For example, in the 2018 midterm election cycle, Dunkin’s PAC raised a total of $45,110 — more than two-thirds of which came from Dunkin’ employees, including CEO David Hoffmann — and donated a total of $41,500 to various campaigns. Their largest contribution — $5,000 — went to the fundraising committee of former House Speaker Paul Ryan. But the PAC also donated $2,500 to eight other candidates, four of which were Democrats, including Massachusetts Rep. Richard Neal.

“The Dunkin’ Brands PAC does not support specific political parties, but rather focuses on issues affecting small businesses and candidates promoting small business growth,” Dunkin’ Brands said in their statement, adding that individual employees “have the right to make a donation in their own names to anyone they choose.”

While Hoffmann, the brand’s current CEO, only contributed to Dunkin’s PAC last cycle, the company’s former CEO Nigel Travis has been a consistent supporter of Democrats. In 2018, Travis independently donated to the Democratic Senate campaigns of Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, Missouri Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, Montana Sen. Jon Tester, Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke (O’Rourke was the only candidate that lost).

Previous to the 2018 cycle, the former Papa John’s pizza CEO also donated thousands to the campaigns of former President Obama, former Arizona Rep. (and fellow England native) Ron Barber, and New Hampshire Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan during his tenure as Dunkin’s CEO (Travis also donated $1,000 in 2010 to the PAC of a tobacco company of which he was a board member and $5,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2016).

Advertisement

Coincidentally, after Schutlz announced he was considering a run, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley declared to the Washington Post that he was “Dunkin’ Donuts guy.” And despite Travis’s support for the Republican tax cut bill, it looks like the former CEO of Dunkin’ was a Democratic Party guy.