Howard Schultz isn’t yet a presidential candidate, but Democrats are already slinging mud in his direction, hoping it may dissuade him from entering the 2020 race or diminish his impact should he do so.
American Bridge, a high-dollar super PAC that focuses on opposition research, has compiled its first “oppo” hit against Schultz, the former Starbucks CEO currently mulling an independent run at the White House. The group pitched reporters for this outlet on Friday on a story about Schultz’s charitable foundation, suggesting he uses it to minimize his personal tax bill even as the foundation spends lavishly on executive compensation and overhead.
The group’s oppo pitch against Schultz piggybacks off of reporting that found Schultz gave less than one percent of his fortune to Schultz Family Foundation during the last fiscal year for which its tax filings are available.
Bridge dug into the foundation’s expenditures and found that it “used its tax-free funding to spend lavishly while Howard Schultz receives tax deductions,” according to a research document the group shared with The Daily Beast. It focused on $400,000 in furniture expenses during fiscal year 2016, and its executive director’s $21,000-per-month salary.
The foundation’s latest annual financial filing shows Schultz and his wife donated $18 million in the year ending June 2017. The foundation gave out about $7.6 million grants in that time, and spent just under $2.2 million on operating and administrative expenses, including compensation.
But the fact that Schultz is drawing the attention and resources of one of Democrats’ largest hubs for opposition research itself underscores the threat that many in the party feel he poses to their efforts to retake the White House in 2020.
“The country is sick and tired of egomaniacs who think tax policy should be made by and for the rich. Apparently, Howard Schultz didn’t get that memo,” Bridge spokesman Andrew Bates said in an emailed statement. “The only person who would benefit from a Schultz candidacy is Donald Trump.”
Bridge isn’t the only prominent Democratic super PAC eyeing an offensive against Schultz. Priorities USA Action, a group founded by Bill Burton, one of Schultz’s top consultants, has also threatened to go after him if he declares a presidential candidacy.
"Our position is we will do all the due diligence that we do against a serious opponent," Guy Cecil, chairman of Priorities USA told The Daily Beast on Friday. "We will have [Freedom of Information Act requests] and a research book and we will treat it seriously until there is a reason we shouldn't. And the extent to which he is an existential threat to defeating Trump we will leave all options on the table including TV advertisements and digital."
Schultz has said that he will take a few months before deciding whether or not to formally enter the race. But already he’s taken steps that have given off the impression that this is more than just a vanity project designed to sell his latest book. Burton said the team had hired a couple dozen aides to help with a prospective run alongside a pollster. One of those aides is Erin McPike, a former D.C.-based journalist who is now helping handle press for Schultz.
"Sounds like that speaks for itself," McPike said, when asked about American Bridge digging up research on Schultz.
But it is Burton’s presence on the Schultz team that has ruffled the most Democratic feathers. Behind the scenes, his former colleagues have personally griped about his involvement in a political effort that they believe could hand Donald Trump another term in office. Fellow alumni of Barack Obama’s White House said there was initial confusion as to whether and why he was working on Schultz’s behalf.
Asked what the initial reaction to the news was among the network, one said, "Is this a joke? What the fuck? And who are the other people involved?"
In recent days, however, that confusion has given way to pique over Burton’s argument that Schultz represents a disruptive and underdog-like political figure along the lines of obama himself.
“That was actually unacceptable,” said the former Obama administration aide. “It’s one thing to say, I disagree with my colleagues about this. It’s another thing to claim the mantle.”