(Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
Several CEOs of American companies have reacted negatively to President Obama's calls for higher taxes on the wealthy, nicknamed the “Buffett tax,” and elimination of a tax deduction for corporate jets. Some CEOs have also criticized partisan gridlock in the U.S. government.
Ted Leonsis, a former AOL executive who is now part owner of several Washington, D.C. sports teams, supported Obama in 2008 with his vote and his money. But he wrote a scathing rebuke of Obama's economic policy proposals in a Sept. 25 blog post titled “Class Warfare – Yuck!”
Leonsis writes about growing up in a working class family and achieving success through “luck and hard work.”
“Economic success has somehow become the new boogie man,” Leonsis writes, “some in the Democratic Party are now casting about for enemies, and business leaders and anyone who has achieved success in terms of rank or fiscal success are being cast as a bad guy in a black hat.”
Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, a Democrat and Obama supporter, had a similar reaction in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”
“I think the president has to recalibrate his message,” Johnson said. “You don't get people to like you by attacking them or demeaning their success. I grew up in a family of 10 kids and the first one to go to college, and I've earned my success. I've earned my right to fly private if I choose to do so. Attacking me is not going to convince me that I should take a bigger hit because I happen to be wealthy.”
Johnson used a quip from actress and singer Ethel Merman to describe how he feels about achieving wealth: “I've tried poor and I've tried rich and I like rich better.”
Being rich “doesn't mean that I'm a bad guy,” Johnson said. “I went into business to create jobs, create opportunity, create value for myself and my investors, and that's what the president should be praising, not demagoguing us simply because Warren Buffett says [his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he does]. He should pay his secretary more and she'll pay more.”
In a Sept. 26 interview with Financial Times, Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent complained that the United States has fallen behind other nations in its business-friendly policies. China and Brazil are, “in many respects,” easier places to conduct business, Kent argued.
FedEx CEO and Chairman Fred Smith, a Republican, said, in an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” that there are challenges to doing business in China, but he is also concerned about the challenges the United States economy faces. “Our corporate tax code, our energy policy, our trade policy and the tremendous increase in regulations are all impeding the economy's ability to grow at reasonable levels.”
Some of these CEOs have also complained about political polarization as a problem for the economy.
“When a country is in trouble, you can’t have a polarized political process,” Kent said. “There’s too much comfort. We need more needles to stick in politicians.”
Johnson agreed that lack of compromise between the political parties makes solving some of the nation's problems more difficult. “We've got the Republicans saying taxes are mine but we'll talk about your entitlements and the Democrats are saying entitlements are ours and we'll talk about your taxes.”
Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz has called for other CEOs to boycott campaign contributions to candidates of either party until the two sides agree to some compromises on solving the nation's economic and debt problems.
“As a result of the debt crisis, and the debacle that took place between Congress and the president, we have a crisis of confidence in the U.S. abroad, and that crisis of confidence is a result of the lack of leadership coming out of Washington,” Shultz said in an interview on ABC's “This Week.”
ABC's Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper was sharply critical of Shultz's boycott.
“I love your lattes, but I think this is a cop-out,” Tapper said. “Absolutely, there are members of the Republican Party, of the Democratic Party, who are willing to compromise. To say that we're not going to give money to anybody, … is not doing the work of trying to figure out who is trying to solve these problems.”
Conservative columnist George Will was critical of the notion that the government is currently dysfunctional on “This Week.”
“What debacle?,” Will asked. “We raised the debt ceiling, we set up the supercommittee, we avoided doing what the president wanted, which was pass the debt ceiling increase cleanly without any cuts in spending. Washington is in gridlock? Washington, in recent years, has passed TARP, the stimulus, Obamacare – big things. Now the country doesn't like a lot of what they did, but you can't say Washington has been gridlocked.”