Political Affiliations of Retail Companies and Leaders

Democratic and Republican Parties Both Get Strong Support from Retailers

Walmart mega store ,Clarkston,Washington, USA
Francis Dean/Corbis News/Getty Images

Rather than risk offending and alienating their customer base, most organizations and executives in the U.S. retail industry will not openly reveal their political affiliations. Buying and selling products and services is a bipartisan activity, so an apolitical position is the safest and most prudent retail posture to take.

Despite the fiscally prudent apolitical image, however, it is becoming more obvious that both the Democratic and Republican parties are both getting strong support from some of the largest U.S. retailing companies in the form of both financial resources, and campaign endorsements.

 

Some American businesses, however, seem to derive part of their brand identity from their political affiliations. Coca Cola, Wal-Mart, and just about every oil company and U.S. based airline are GOP stalwarts from way back. They are “big business and proud of it” organizations and their open alignment with the Republican Party seems to strengthen their image with traditional, conservative consumers.

More contemporary American brands like Apple, Starbucks, Ben & Jerry’s, and the three largest search engines in the world, Google, Yahoo, and MSN openly embrace the “change” agenda of the Democratic Party. These companies are “buck the status quo” organizations. If they didn’t vote “green” with the democrats, they would likely suffer a loss of reputation with their most fanatically loyal customers who are renegades themselves.

CEOs Pledge Their Allegiance

Beyond the obvious corporate affiliations, the politics of the company can often be determined by the politics of the current CEO.

The retail leaders of some of the biggest U.S. retail organizations cast their vote in presidential elections long before the polls were open by providing financial support to candidate campaigns.

According to NNDB.com, which claims to be “an intelligence aggregator that tracks the activities of people… determined to be noteworthy, both living and dead,” both the Republican and Democratic parties have their share of high-profile retail executive support.

The website lists the political alliances of hundreds of famous people, including some of the most well-known personalities in the retail industry.

Although many retail leaders won't pledge their financial support for the 2016 presidential election until after a candidate is officially chosen, some retail CEOs (and former/retired retail CEOs) are getting in the game early with campaign contributions to support the candidates of their choice.  What follows is a list of retail industry CEOs and their political affiliations in recent presidential elections.  

Retail CEOs and Leaders Who Supported the Democratic Party in Recent Presidential Elections:

Arthur Blank, Co-founder of Home Depot
2012 - Barack Obama
2008 - Barach Obama

Maxine Clark, CEO, Build-a-Bear Workshop
2016 - Hillary Clinton
2008 - Barack Obama

Michael Eisner, CEO of Disney, 1984-2005
2016 - Hillary Clinton
2016 - Marco Rubio
2008 - Barack Obama

Alan Feldman, CEO of Midas
2008 - Barack Obama

Bill Gates, Co-founder of Microsoft
2008 - Barack Obama

Stephen F. Gates, Former EVP Conoco-Phillips
2008 - Barack Obama

Jack M. Greenberg, CEO of McDonald’s 1998-2002
2008 - Barack Obama

Lawrence V. Jackson, Wal-Mart Executive
2008 - Barack Obama

Sidney Kimmel, CEO of Jones Apparel Group, 1975-2002
2008 - Barack Obama

Philip Marineau, CEO of Levi Strauss, 1999-2006
2008 - Barack Obama

Norman S. Matthews, President and COO of Federated, 1987-88
2008 - Barack Obama

Thomas J. Meredith, CFO of Dell, 1992-2000
2012 - Barack Obama
2008 - Barack Obama

George MrKonic, Jr., Former President of Borders
2008 - Barack Obama

Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s
2008 - Barack Obama

Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks
2016 - John McCain
2008 - Barack Obama

James Sinegal, CEO of Costco
2008 - Barack Obama

Tom Stemberg, Founder and CEO of Staples, Inc.
2008 - Barack Obama

Marvin Traub, CEO of Bloomingdale’s, 1978-1992
2008 - Barack Obama

George Zimmer, founder and CEO of Men’s Wearhouse
2008 - Barack Obama

Predictable Politics and Surprising Supporters

Some retail affiliations can be deduced fairly easily without any public displays of political affection. James Sinegal, founder and CEO of Costco, is well-known for his egalitarian management style. Since there is no egalitarian party candidate, it’s logical that supporting the democratic candidate would be the next best thing. Meg Whitman has already hinted that she may be open to being the next non-political celebrity governor of California, and her political contributions in the past have found their way to mostly Republican pockets.

These party placements are predictable.

There are a few noteworthy surprises on the lists, however. In the summer of 2008, Wal-Mart held mandatory “informational” meetings to espouse the virtues of the Republican Party policies to its managers. Yet Wal-Mart executive Lawrence V. Jackson is reportedly a supporter of the Barack Obama campaign. Also bucking corporate allegiances, Stephen Gates, former EVP for Conoco-Philips seems to have pledged his allegiance to Obama even though the oil industry and the Republican Party are practically synonymous.

What follows is a list of retail industry CEOs and retail company founders who have supported Republican candidates in recent U.S. presidential elections.  

Michael L. Ainslie, CEO of Sotheby’s 1984-94
2016 - Jeb Bush
2008 - Barack Obama

David Brandon, Chairman and CEO, Domino’s Pizza
2008 - John McCain

Edward Brennan, CEO of Sears Roebuck
2008 - John McCain

Wesley R. Card, CEO of Jones Apparel Group
2008 - John McCain

S. Truett Cathy, founder and CEO of Chick-fil-A
2008 - John McCain

Christopher Connor, CEO of Sherwin-Williams
2008 - John McCain

Kenneth Derr, CEO of Chevron
2016 - Chris Christie
2008 - John McCain

David Farrell, CEO of May Department Stores, 1979-98
2016 - John McCain
2008 - John McCain

Leonard Fenstein, co-founder of Bed, Bath & Beyond
2008 - John McCain

George Feldenkreis, CEO of Perry Ellis International
2016 - Marco Rubio
2008 - John McCain

Irvine Hockaday, Jr., CEO of Hallmark, 1986-2001
2008 - John McCain

Alan J. Lacy, CEO of Sears, 2000-2005
2008 - John McCain

John Mackey, Founder of Whole Foods
2016 - Rand Paul
2012 - Mitt Romney

Kenneth May, CEO of FedEx Kinko’s, 2004-2007
2008 - John McCain

Gary G. Michaels, CEO of Albertson’s, 1991-2001
2008 - John McCain

Lucio Noto, CEO of Mobil, 1994-1999
2008 - John McCain

John J. O’Connor, EVP of Hess Corporation
2008 - John McCain

Clarence Otis, CEO of Darden Restaurants
2008 - John McCain

James A Skinner, CEO of McDonald’s
2012 - Mitt Romney
2008 - John McCain

Richard Teerlink, CEO of Harley-Davidson, 1989-97
2008 - John McCain

Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay
2008 - John McCain

The Retail Politico Effect

Whether or not an open political affiliation will hurt a retail organization in the long-term is speculative. With economic conditions as they are moving into a new decade, businesses can’t really afford to alienate any wallets.

But for the same reasons, consumers may not be able to afford to be politically self-righteous either. A precarious economy will likely create cautious participation on both sides of the retail politico equation in the next few year - at least until the next presidential election heats up.

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