Should Runners Vote with their Dollars?

Voting with your purchasesIn case you were hiding from the news this week, last Wednesday a WSJ reporter tweeted out a quote from New Balance’s VP of Public Affairs, Matt LeBretton: “The Obama administration turned a deaf ear to us and frankly, with President-elect Trump, we feel things are going to move in the right direction.” Within an hour, sneaker head magazine Sole Collector got wind of the statement and incited angry, shoe-burning backlash from consumers with their coverage.

And while it’s true that the statement was and continues to be taken out of context by consumers all across the political spectrum, the incident has definitely raised questions among some of us about where our dollars go when we purchase products from Nike, Under Armour or NB.

For instance, according to a research piece for CBS Sports, Nike founder Phil Knight donated $133,400 to support Republican congressional candidates in the 2016 election cycle and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank gave $2,700 to the Clinton campaign. If you want to dive into the records yourself, check out OpenSecrets.org, which searches public record donations. There, I discovered the president of Mizuno USA, Robert S. Puccini, gave nominal amounts to Republicans in previous election cycles but did not donate during the 2016 election. Blake Krueger, CEO of Saucony parent company Wolverine World Wide gave $6k to Republicans in 2015 and 2016. Laurent Potdevin of Lululemon gave $2,700 to Clinton last October 1st.

Would any of this information sway your decision to purchase products from one company or another?

Do your political beliefs affect the way you shop? Do you think it’s important to consider how a company or its leaders will use the money you spend on their products?

Cinnamon made Salty Running, takes lots of pictures and drinks lots of coffee. She has 8 more minutes to knock off her marathon for a 3:40 BQ, and will get there or die trying. Her writing is an eclectic mix of finding wholeness as an average runner, news reporting, curious reactions, satirical humor and more.

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19 comments

  1. I just wanted to say that I love that this is a site where I am not afraid to read the comments, and actually look forward to it. I’ve seen so many people hijacking threads and saying terrible things to each other over the last week, its so lovely to see a polite and informed discussion on a ‘political’ post.

  2. I’m with ya, Liz. Especially given my breakdown of James Davis (above), which I really should have done yesterday before releasing this post, I kind of feel like the whole Made in the USA part of New Balance’s thing is a manipulation of my emotions. That’s great marketing, but I feel dirty now.

  3. I mean, it’s feasible. I won’t eat chick-fil-a for exactly this reason. They went public about being anti- “many things which I support” and I decided my money would be better spent elsewhere. You know, the few times a year we eat fast food. ?

  4. If I’m reading this correctly, these people made the donations on their personal behalf. It was not a donation from the company. If I am going to drill down to that level of how an employee of a company is spending their money, I would never be able to buy anything from anyone. At that rate, who knows what can of worms you can open up? What products are they buying for their own personal use that come from sources you don’t support? It’s quite the rabbit hole. Now on the other side of the coin, if the donation was made in the company name, it’s still likely still not going to dissuade me. If I operated my life like that, where would I draw the line? Would I not give a birthday present or cook a meal for a friend that donated to a political party I don’t agree with?

    1. I’m with you. And like I said, we don’t know why they made the donation and what policies they’re endorsing, etc. A candidate running on a promise to cut the corporate tax rate is going to be very appealing to someone running a corporation and is not necessarily an endorsement of the rest of a presidential candidate’s platform. And one person giving money does not mean the company as a whole endorses that candidate.

    2. +3, this is why I like to keep Politics out of as many things in my life as I can. Even if I have strong opinions (which I do) with politics, those opinions tend to be tied to strong emotions. The last thing I need is to bring my strong emotions into every aspect of my life. As you said, definitely a rabbit hole that can turn into a black hole REAL quick.

  5. Normally I find it more satisfying and that I can do more good works directing my energies in other directions than investigating who those companies and their leaders support. There are many reasons a company might support a candidate, often coming down to one position on one specific thing, that it doesn’t necessarily reflect on that company’s ethics, etc. That being said, this election feels very different in that the winning candidate is a bit of an unknown in terms of how he’ll govern and even what his policies are (so many mixed messages or superficial blathering it’s really hard to know), which in conjunction with some other things, are leading to a lot of fear. If those fears end up being justified or worse, those companies run a risk probably not worth taking by endorsing that candidate. But even so, nothing you report these companies or their leaders doing is enough to make me want to not purchase something from them in itself.

  6. I think that NB remark was more of a gaffe than anything else, and besides a founder’s personal donations, I think it’s more important to find out what a company’s actual practices are. I don’t think it’s essential to make everything in America, because those specialist jobs that go to Vietnam or Taiwan can often help grow economies there and tap skills that have been lost in the US, but I do think it’s really, really important that labour practices be safe, just and pay fair wages. (For the same reason as Barley I haven’t given Nike any of my money in about five years.) I agree with previous commenters that I doubt everyone within the company shares the same political view, whereas many decision-makers within the company do have a say in things like athlete support, sustainability, and labour practices.

    Also, an interesting side note to the NB lobby of the DoD – NB had a major contract to provide running shoes to the Singapore military (at least 10,000 recruits a year from the birth cohort graduating high school, plus regular service personnel) for several years; the military contract is a pretty lucrative business model!

    1. I’m with you – I’m most concerned about ethical business practices. As it happens, I’d just ordered some running gear from new balance online the day before the election, and when the “pro-trump” remarks came out I did consider sending all the stuff back for a hot minute. Ultimately I decided the remarks were just ill timed and tone deaf, and not proof that the entire company is evil.

    1. Right! This is totally worth discussing in the wake of the remarks. Is 25% of their manufacturing business worth making a stink about, REALLY? Especially when you consider the political contributions of their chairman, James Davis, it seems that New Balance’s stance on being Made in the USA might actually just be lip service to a noble cause that conveniently helps Davis’ personal interests:

      In 2016 alone, Davis donated a total of $211,900 to Republican candidates, usually maxing out his donation.

      PLUS, he donated $150,000 to the Congressional Leadership Fund, $250,000 to the Senate Leadership Fund (hi, Mitch! Thanks so much for killing the TPP this week!).

      PLUS he gave $100,000 to “Granite State Solutions,” $10k to the “America Rising PAC”, $100,000 to the “Fighting for Ohio Fund,” $100,000 to “Security is Strength” and $100,000 to “New Day for America.” That’s $410k on PACs that fought for and benefited Trump.

      How much did James S. Davis of New Balance spend on Republicans in 2016? $1,021,900. Over a million dollars. https://www.opensecrets.org/indivs/search.php?sort=D&name=james%2Bdavis&state=MA&zip=&employ=new%2Bbalance&cand=&soft=&cycle=All

  7. Political affiliation doesn’t stop me from purchasing goods. What does stop me is trade practices. I can’t support child laborers and am more careful about what I purchase. I I learned all my favorite shoes were being put together by children in China I would have to find a new shoe. I want to be free to support my candidate how I choose and so I support the right of others to support their candidate within the legal bounds.

    1. Well said! I remember being a kid and learning about child labor for the first time in the context of a very prominent athletic company (ahem). They claim to have cleaned up of course, but I’ve felt uneasy about them ever since.

  8. For me personally, I try not to bring politics into every aspect of my life. It’s frustrating enough as it is, let alone having it affect areas of my life that are generally much happier than politics make me. With that said, I understand why some companies back who they do. We all vote for our best interests to keep us safe, our money safe, and our lives in peace or to get better. Companies have to do the same thing. They are in the business of making money, and for those who especially want slightly against the grain (such as making more shoes here, but still being able to compete with those who ship everything off)- their support of a candidate could definitely be different on that one point alone. Who is going to help THEM stay alive as a company and help THEM make money and be able to compete with others? Does that mean I like who they support, No. But I can see why they may choose to go that route and as Bergie said I don’t believe that all people who work for NB are die hard Trump fans that don’t care about what that actually means in this election.

    When it comes to generally non-political things such as running and sports and brand influences. I tend to choose more based on how it affects the thing its directly related to. Example I avoid giving Nike my money because I don’t believe that they care about a clean sport or supporting athletes equally when it comes to running.

    1. On the NB front – the context of their statement was that they were opposed to the TPP, which Clinton had come out against as well. The VP who made the statement (who probably has his head in the sand somewhere, poor guy), was referencing that President Obama’s administration has been tirelessly working FOR the TPP and that New Balance felt they would benefit from its dissolution. While I honestly doubt that he would have said the same about Clinton, I think his only real mistake here was timing. With emotions so high during this presidential election it was inevitable that half the country would be incredibly upset no matter the outcome, and maybe saying something about it the day after wasn’t a great move! Nonetheless, you’re right, NB is acting in its own interest and that is completely understandable.

      BUT. The whole “corporations are individuals” thing kills me, and makes me think twice here. It is obvious that corporate interests are different from the best interests of citizens, and as such I would prefer corporations not be allowed to put their money into politics. Their wealthy presidents and CEOs obviously are contributing in their own names (notably Knight/Nike), and that is what it is, and because they have lots of money to give they can influence politics more than, say, me or the homeless person on the corner, or a low income family trying to get its kids educated, or folks living in rural Appalachia whose drinking water is ruined by fracking. Spending caps, like Bergamot said, and REAL contribution limits (don’t get me started on PACs) aren’t a terrible idea, but it’s hard to fix that when it directly benefits our lawmaking representatives!

  9. Despite feeling like a generally informed person, I rarely think about the possibility of my money going somewhere that I don’t want it to go. I will be checking out OpenSecrets out of curiosity. I selfishly hope my Adidas shoe obsession isn’t affected! :p

    Political donations could affect my buying decisions in extreme cases. (i.e. Nike founder’s hugh jass donation) I don’t have it out for republicans, but I am for gun control. And I see how much money the NRA donates to republican representatives. For me, this is within the same family. What are these CEOs receiving in response to these large donations? How are they benefiting? The smaller donations seem totally okay with me. I’ve personally raised the same amounts of money for *charities that I’m passionate about. Any regular human (aka non-CEO) could make a donation that size if they wanted to.

    *I understand that we’re talking politics, not charities. Politics and donations make for some sticky business. It’s unavoidable to some extent. Why can’t these companies just donate to charities instead and let the politicians fend for themselves? Muahaha. Campaigns already raise a sickening amount of money. I think it’s a waste. I’m with Bernie Sanders on campaign spending caps.

    On that same note, a few years ago the company I was working for decided to make a donation to a republican congressman in our city on behalf of our company. I was upset because this was a decision made without me, and our company was supporting someone whose principals I didn’t agree with. Which is a big reason why I’m not with that company anymore. ;) My point is that not everyone within that company holds the same beliefs as the person donating, or in NB’s case, speaking, and it would be unfair to stop the support of the company entirely.

    1. I don’t think it’s good business to make a political contribution on behalf of your company for precisely this reason. Do it for yourself, but don’t speak for your employees and customers. As you said, better to make a charitable donation to a specific cause that’s within your company’s mission or something. There are just too many possible reasons that someone would vote for someone to be able to say this one is better for everyone over that one (even in this election as hard as it may be to believe!)

    2. Yeah it’s worth noting that Knight contributed under his own name and less worth noting that he has given a (tiny) percentage to Democratic organizations in the past (2014). What does he get? Well with all the money that flows through Nike being the founder of that very large company, I assume he’s looking to protect his financial interests and those of his corporation. https://www.opensecrets.org/indivs/search.php?sort=D&name=Philip%2BKnight&state=OR&zip=&employ=&cand=&soft=&cycle=All