Howard Schultz's departure from Starbucks has stirred fresh speculation he could run for president in 2020. And his strong connection to other business leaders could help him build a big campaign war chest.
Schultz, a billionaire himself, has been mingling with c-suite executives ever since he became chief executive officer of the popular coffee chain in 1986. This was particularly evident in 2011 when he called on industry titans to sign a letter pledging to not contribute to political campaigns until lawmakers put an "end to partisan gridlock" and pass a bipartisan debt and deficit package in order to control the increasing debt in the United States.
At the time, he managed to get over 100 signatures, including Millard Drexler, chairman of clothing company J. Crew, Tim Armstrong, then the leader of AOL and now the CEO of Oath, Bob Greifield, the former head of the Nasdaq stock exchange and Duncan Niederauer, the former head of the New York Stock Exchange. Alan Hassenfeld who at the time was the chairman and chief executive officer of toy manufacturing giant Hasbro and Scott Griffith, formerly the CEO of Zipcar, who now runs an online auction marketplace called Everything but the House, also signed the letter.
All of these individuals are potential donors to Schultz's campaign and some aren't ruling out backing him for president.
Asked on Tuesday if he would support a Schultz run, Griffith sounded a positive note in an email response. "Now that I'm spending most of my time in southern Ohio as CEO of Everything But the House, I am getting a first-hand view of the issues that matter to the middle part of the country. As a substantial job creator and person who thinks deeply, seriously and practically on a wide range of policy matters, I'd like to see Howard's views added to the mix."
Hassenfeld didn't rule out support for Schultz either. Hassenfeld said in an email, "I will support almost anyone who will bring back civility to America."
Greifield and Armstrong declined to comment. Drexler and Niederauer did not return requests for comment.
Hassenfeld was a top financial supporter of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election, according Federal Election Commission records. In August of that year he gave up $33,400 to the Hillary Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee backed by the Democratic National Committee. During the same month, he shelled out $30,700 to the DNC.
Hassenfeld also contributed to candidates from both sides of the aisle during the 2008 presidential election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Hillary Clinton received $4,600 from him in March 2017 and Barack Obama received $2,300 from him that same year. He also gave in total $7,500 to Senator John McCain who later became the Republican candidate for president.
Political strategists are convinced that Schultz's relationship with executives like Hassenfeld and Griffith could be his key to success if he were to jump into what could be a packed 2020 Democratic primary.
"His connection to Wall Street and the business community would be a big deal for him if he runs in 2020," said Democrat political strategist Hank Sheinkopf. "He will get the dollars he needs and a lot more support from executives compared to the candidates on the left because he is more pro-business and more business friendly," he added.
The letter from 2011 also gives a glimpse into the potential policies that Schultz could run on.
In it, he calls on Congress to come to an agreement on the nation's debt and on spending cuts, something that greatly separates him from more left leaning candidates including Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA and Bernie Sanders, D-VT.
The original letter demanded executives to "withhold political campaign contributions until a transparent, comprehensive, bipartisan debt-and-deficit package is reached that honestly, and fairly, sets America on a path to long-term financial health and security."
He echoed those same moderate sentiments in an interview with CNBC on Tuesday.
Without naming names, Schultz said in a "Squawk Box" interview: "It concerns me that so many voices within the Democratic Party are going so far to the left. I say to myself, 'How are we going to pay for these things,' in terms of things like single payer [and] people espousing the fact that the government is going to give everyone a job. I don't think that's realistic."
"I think we got to get away from these falsehoods and start talking about the truth and not false promises" said Schultz.