Consumer activism/voting with your dollars

It seems that post election “buy blue” sites have been gaining popularity. Basically they list where companies’ Political Action Committee money goes.The three I’ve seen:

Cobb 24’s “the list”. The most complete list, and also includes a list of companies who contributed no money to either party (it’d be great if someone could make a Palm app out of this info! And write a WAP interface for it).

Buy Blue short list, but has a blog with discussions and updates.

Choose the Blue. Uses a different system than the other two, somehow they factor in employee individual contributions.

One of the major surprises on these lists is that 60% of Amazon’s money went to Republicans (though when Choose Blue factored in employee contribution, 60% to Dems). Amazon’s trying to spin this by saying their contributions were to Republicans based on anti-spam bills. But a poster on buy Blue points out the candidates they supported included:

* Joe Barton, who promoted “safeguards” regulating TV news content

* Paul Gillmor, Bob Goodlatte, Dennis Hastert, Ron Lewis, James Sensenbrenner, and many others who opposed the “freedom to read” amendment, allowing federal funds to be used to demand patron records from bookstores and libraries

* Marsha Blackburn and Fred Upton, who not only opposed the “freedom to read” amendment, but also promoted a bill that would allow the government to withdraw funding from universities ‘deemed to be harboring academic critics of Israel’

* Lamar Smith, who opposed “freedom to read” and also sponsored a bill to legalize “censorship software” for stripping “offensive content” out of films.

But the process of figuring out what companies to support isn’t so simple. Another poster writes:

Targeting amazon simply doesn’t make sense. Read on.

I completely agree that it’s a great strategy to ask blue-voting consumers to patronize blue-contributing companies, but the tactics encouraged here are so flawed that you are encouraging ineffective behavior, both by us blue-voting consumers and by corporate america.

First, it’s ineffective, at best, to target retailers, especially online retailers, which comprise such a tiny portion of corporate contributions. Check it out: Intel gave 77% of its over $200k of contributions to Rs, but is that stopping us from buying pcs? The same percentage (77) of the beer PAC’s whopping $2.2 million in contributions went red, but are we going to stop drinking beer? And, for nice symmetry, note also that 77% of general mills’ PAC’s contributions went red. So, after we’ve pitched our wintel computers, given up brew, and quit crying in our cheerios, maybe it makes sense to look at retailers. And, heaven help up if you smoke, use gasoline, or make a phone call! The tobacco, energy, and telephone industries’ red contributions absolutely dwarf retail.

Here’s the point: if we’re going to do this buyblue thing right, we need to focus far more on *what brands* we buy than on *from which retailers* we buy it.

Second, among retailers we’re beating up amazon. But does that really make sense? If you really look at it (as someone on this blog already said), amazon gave a lot more to critically important D senate leadership (daschle, reid, dorgan, murray) than b&n, which doesn’t even have a PAC or give soft money (like that other blogger said, it’s flat wrong to include barnes & noble as a blue company).

And look at amazon’s contribs more closely: they didn’t give to bush (as is floating around the web) and, knock out the $4k to mccain (did anyone think he was going to lose? he was reelected with 76% of the vote!) then add in the amazon exec’s individual contribs to sen murray who, when they gave, was in a very tough race, not only does amazon’s overall R/D ratio suddenly go from 61/39 to something like 55/45, they actually end up blue in the senate, regardless of whether you count the mccain contribs. Think about it: unlike the house, the senate was in play this election and amazon’s pac plus execs gave blue to the senate! Yet they’re getting hammered by us?

So here’s the second point: we need to be really careful about how we look at the company contribs. Amazon is far more blue than b&n and yet you’re asking us to boycott amazon and you’re showing b&n as blue?

Lastly, it’s crystal clear that the big box retailers are red, red, red. So, while we’re switching to macs, and stopping smoking, drinking, making phone calls, driving cars, and eating cheerios, then we should, get this: start shopping *more* at amazon, which is the only serious long term competitor to the wal-marts and targets of the world and is far more blue.

Bottom line, what you’re asking blue-voting consumers to do is great strategically, but is ineffective or maybe even backwards tactically.

Along those lines, it looks like it’s really damn hard to spend money without some of it going to the Republicans. Especially out here in rural Wyoming with fewer alternatives, and where “buying local” usually also means supporting Republicans.

Environmental sustainability and worker’s rights are bigger concerns, and Buy Blue claims to be working on a new version of their site that will include more info along those lines. It’s a complex issue and simply looking at who contributed money where won’t tell us much. But it interesting and sort of fun. Here are some of the more interesting and surprising results:

Starbucks: 100% to Democrats

Apple Computer: 73% to Republicans (Chooseblue puts it at 81% to Democrats)

Microsoft: 53% to Republicans (Chooseblue puts it at 60% to Democrats)

Gap/Old Navy: 66% to Democrats

Nordstrom: 100% to Democrats

Macy’s (Federated Department Stores): 100% to Republicans

And check out this old post by Abe about consumer support for candidates, which takes it all a step further…


  1. Well, I don’t think that long letter really hit the nail on the head.

    As far as Intel goes, Motorola makes the PowerPC chip (used by Apple). I run linux on a powerpc. 🙂

    Plus, Amazon is pretty sleazy for other reasons, most notable their effort to patent one click ordering.

    The real problem with internet retailers, well, it’s not the top of my list of things to do. First I am going to tackle the media.


  2. Most of Motorola’s PAC money goes to the Republicans, and so does Intel’s. Doesn’t leave us with much of a choose does it? Sure running Linux is nice, but in terms of hardware, you’re in a bind. (there is that processor company that Linus Tarvolds runs, though… what’s the name of that?)

    The one click thing was kinda sleazey, but like you said, it’s not really that high on my list of priorities.

    Costco seems like the only decently progressive retail chain, but there’s not one near me. Plus, you’ve really got to have a car if you want to shop there.

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