When Your Meetings and Events Cause Harm By Doing Good

Coca Cola MPI WEC Tweet
Meetings Industry Hotels and Associations
Photo: Pierre Tourigny

This is a post that I have been working on for about a month and I will be honest and say that I have been a little apprehensive in posting this because I was / am concerned about the backlash that I would receive. In the end, I have never been one to back down from anything….but still………..I did think about it for a couple of minutes.

Then, i got a tweet that made me say, “now is the time”…..

Coca Cola MPI WEC Tweet

Inspiring my ass, this little tweet hit me like a ton of bricks, let me tell you why.

It hit me because of what I see as our industry hypocrisy. I hope you are ready because although I see some really good stuff going on in our industry, I still see a lot of bad……let me explain.

You love beagle puppies…..

What would you do if you knew that by giving money to a program that saves beagle puppies, the beagle puppies would be saved but the company that saved the beagle puppies was going to hand your money to a company that would cut down 500 acres of pristine forest to build a new 5000 car parking garage and a coal fired energy plant?

That is a quandary. This is something that should give you pause because on the one hand, you are saving beagle puppies but on the other, you may be destroying the habitat of the spotted owl or perhaps, the native home of the beagle puppies being saved and at the same time polluting the area by burning coal.

Not an easy choice to make, yet it is exactly the choice the some companies in the meetings and events industry are giving us today.

The following headline should make everyone jump for joy and make everyone smile, especially meeting and event planners that are trying to make a difference in the world, if even just a small one.. Until you start to think about the beagle puppies and those 500 beautiful acres.

Here is the title of a post that crossed my desk a few weeks ago and ties into the tweet that I mentioned earlier:

Plan Meetings That Give Back to Your Community with Starwood and Coca-Cola

Now, on the surface, this sounds really great.

A snip of the article from CVent sounds good but is it really all that?

Starwood Hotels & Resorts announced yesterday that they have teamed up with Coca-Cola to offer planners an assortment of on-site, philanthropic specialty events. The On-Site Specialty Events program offers a selection of 20+ team-building activities available at 100 Starwood hotels across the United States. Among these activities, planners can choose from several socially-conscious themed events, which all feature Coca-Cola beverage solutions.

This program, when taken on its own merits is great, but are you really able to pat yourself on the back? Maybe not if you take the time to dig a little deeper.

Meeting and event professionals need to ask questions when participating in this or any type of social program because it is possible that by participating in this program you are handing money to climate change deniers, people opposed to LGBT rights and other assorted politicians that do not hold the same values as most meeting and event professionals.

You are lost in the Beagle Puppy Forest.

With the Starwood / Coke Program, the short answer I believe, is yes, by participating in this program, you are handing money to people that I feel are pretty bad folks.

How is this so? Let me tell you.

The answer is not as cut and dried as you might imagine. The devil is in the details and buried under a lot of stuff that many companies involved in the meetings and events industry do not want you to see but where I am going to take you anyway.

Let’s have a look at where your money goes when you participate in this program.

You see, Starwood has a Political Action Committee or PAC which is supported by the company and donations made by its managers, senior officers and the like, this PAC then donates to the campaigns of politicians that will do good things for the company. When you spend money on your meeting and events, Starwood turns around and gives some of this money to their PAC. Here is how Wikipedia describes the flow of cash:

When an interest group, union, or corporation wants to contribute to federal candidates or parties, it must do so through a PAC. These PACs receive and raise money from a “restricted class,” generally consisting of managers and shareholders in the case of a corporation, and members in the case of abute funds to candidates for federal office. Contributions from corporate or labor union treasuries are illegal, though they may sponsor a PAC and provide financial support for its administration and fundraising.

The same holds true for Coca Cola but on a much larger scale than Starwood. They also have a Political Action Committee which donates to many, many candidates.

How this all works is very convoluted and messy, it really takes time to sort it all out and is precisely what is wrong with our political system.

So, what campaigns are YOU supporting when you book a meeting at Starwood and participate in this program?

Before we jump in, I must be fair and let you know that most corporate PACs donate to both Republican and Democratic candidates. They donate to the candidate that will support the company’s interests; they are not interested in the moral, environmental or other positions of the candidates and this is the problem.

Both the Starwood PAC and the Coca Cola PAC donate to Democrats and Republicans. In the case of both PACs, some of the candidates that receive funds are good people but they also donate to candidates that I feel are nasty, vile individuals and by spending your money with these companies, YOU are in essence supporting all of the candidates that they and their management supports through the PAC be they good or bad.

Before we talk about the candidates, I am not saying that planners should avoid this program, what I am saying is that you must know all of the facts before the high-fiving begins and we tell ourselves that we are all that and a freaking bag of chips.

Saving beagle puppies might be more important than the forest at the current time; it is all a matter of context. Almost all programs you will participate in will have a good side and a dark side. It is up to the planner to weigh the pros and cons of each and decide which serves the greater good.

The Starwood PAC

The Starwood PAC is pretty small, but I feel they really muck up the waters with their slice of campaign donations. Let’s have a look under the hood and see who Starwood PAC donates too and supports.

Starwood PAC Has Supported Dave Camp

In 2008 they gave money to Dave Camp, a honey of a guy who also happens to be a Republican from Michigan and serves in the US House.

This guy is a real charmer and has voted against:

  • The Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell
  • Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act
  • The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
  • The Alternative Energy Bill
  • The Medicare Prescription Drug Bill

Starwood PAC Currently Supports Eric Cantor

In 2010 they gave money to Eric Cantor, this guy is a real piece of work and is all over the news lately. Here is what he supports.

  • Cantor opposes public funding of embryonic stem cell research
  • Cantor opposes elective abortion
  • He is rated 100% by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC)
  • Cantor is opposed to same-sex marriage
  • Cantor has voted to constitutionally define marriage as between a male and a female in 2006
  • In November 2007 he voted against prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation
  • On Nov. 2, 2010, Cantor told Wolf Blitzer of CNN that he would try to trim the federal deficit by reducing welfare
  • Cantor is in favor of not raising taxes or closing tax loop holes for the ultra-rich or corporations

The Coca Cola PAC

The Coca Cola PAC is much larger than Starwood’s and could fill an entire book but I will stick to the same format and tell you about two of the candidates that they support:

Coca Cola PAC Supports John Randolph Thune

John Randolph Thune is the junior U.S. Senator from South Dakota and a member of the Republican Party.

This guy is a real winner and is not shy about what I believe to be hate in his heart. The man voted against giving health care to the 9/11 First Responders because he felt that the Bush Tax Cuts we more important (his words, not mine). Tax cuts for the rich are more important than the people that saved lives and ran into the burning towers . This is where your money is going.

  • In June 2006, Thune reaffirmed his strong support to amend the United States Constitution to ban same-sex marriage
  • Thune has stated publicly that he believes our war in Iraq opens the door for Christianity to take over
  • Thune opposed President Barack Obama’s health reform legislation
  • Thune voted against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in December 2009
  • Thune voted against the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010
  • Thune voted against the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which would have “provided free medical treatment and compensation to first responders of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack.” Thune “explained that preserving the Bush tax cuts was more of a priority.”

Coca Cola PAC Supports John Cornyn, III

John Cornyn, III is the junior United States Senator for Texas and a Republican, he is also a very bad man in my opinion. He voted against giving our troops additional education benefits and against protecting them in combat with additional armor…. what is wrong with him?

Here is what Cornyn supports:

  • In 2005, Cornyn voted against including oil and gas smokestacks in mercury regulations
  • Cornyn voted against factoring global warming into federal project planning
  • Cornyn voted against banning drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
  • Cornyn voted against removing oil and gas exploration subsidies
  • Cornyn voted against reducing oil usage by 40%, rather than by 5%
  • Cornyn sponsored a bill that would allow law enforcement to force anyone arrested or detained to provide samples of their DNA, which would be recorded in a central database
  • Cornyn voted in favor of notifying parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions
  • Cornyn voted against expanding research to more embryonic stem cell lines
  • Cornyn voted against additional funding for up-armored vehicles to protect troops in Afghanistan & Iraq
  • Cornyn voted against restricting businesses with ties to terrorism
  • Cornyn was one of only 22 Senators to vote against the Post-9/11 GI Bill that expands the educational benefits for soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Cornyn opposed President Barack Obama’s health reform legislation
  • Cornyn voted against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in December 2009
  • Cornyn voted against the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010

But Wait! There’s More!

What is more shocking (if it could get more shocking) is the fact that these PACs not only gave money to candidates… they actually give large amounts to other PACs that support the same candidates. It is like some big, sick, dysfunctional, incestuous relationship.

Tell me, are all of these PACs looking out for the best interests of the environment, women’s rights, the rights of the LGBT community, the rights of workers? Are these PACs supporting things that you believe in?

So, now you know.

Now you know where your money is going and what your money is being used for. By supporting this program, YOU are, in essence, supporting these candidates because it is our money that fuels them.

Because you know, you can make the decision to participate or not. To see the full list of candidates that Starwood’s PAC gave money too, click here and to see the full list of people that Coca Cola PAC donated too, click here.

What you will find is that some candidates received a lot of money, some received a little, but Starwood PAC and Coca Cola PAC still gave, that is a fact.

I believe that if you are in for a dime, you are in for a dollar when it comes to hate, intolerance and fear.

The arguments that these companies will make in support of their PACs will make sense, that is why they have PR firms but I believe that you cannot both simultaneously support good quality programs while at the same time supporting candidates that would repeal, ban or otherwise make such programs ineffective. There is NO sound logic in doing this unless your only motivation is making money.

  • You cannot believe in saving the environment while giving money to those that would destroy it. That is Hypocritical.
  • You cannot support the LGBT community at the same time giving money to people that would deny their basic rights. That is Hypocritical.
  • You cannot support women’s rights at the same time giving money to people that are against them. That is Hypocritical.

What major corporations and associations are doing through their PACs is essentially giving money to drug treatment centers out the front door while selling crack out the back door. That is the analogy that I feel fits because it clearly illustrates hypocrisy in action.

When it comes to this particular program, here is what I would do.

I WOULD use this program BUT, I would also raise my objections to Starwood and let them know that I do not like that their PAC is donating to what I feel are bad people.

I would also weigh what my attendees might have to say on the matter and have a well thought out response should an attendee have questions. I would let the attendee know that we felt that the programs up-sides far outweigh the downsides and that we have our objection to the PAC in writing (and I would print it out to show).

I have done many successful programs at Starwood properties, they have many great people and they are not the worst offenders in our industry but the fact remains that Starwood and their senior management are giving money to candidates through their PAC that stand against many of our very own coworkers, friends, family, clients and even their own employees. It is my belief that they are indirectly supporting hate, intolerance and fear by using their PAC dollars to support these candidates and they need to recognize this.

After going through the complete list of candidate donations made by Coca Cola’s PAC, it is my belief that Coke should be ashamed of themselves and I should stop drinking Diet Coke and switch to Pepsi, but, Pepsi has a PAC too so I am out of luck, chug-a-lug.

Are you violating your own internal CSR policies by using these programs?

This is a valid question, the fact that Coca Cola PAC and Starwood PAC gives money to these candidates may even go against your own company or association CSR guidelines and this is something that planners must take into consideration before they book.

Little Support From Industry Associations

Our industry associations WILL NOT tell you about this, they are too beholden to these corporations and the sponsorship dollars that they provide to rock the boat. In addition, some of our industry associations have their own PACs that donate to candidates similar to the ones above (for example, the American Hotel and Lodging Association).

Basically, our industry associations either have no balls or are in on it…. sometimes both. Our associations hands are not clean in this whole mess because silence is acceptance.

Our industry trade publications will not go out on a limb either because they are facing challenges of their own and cannot “bite” the hand that feeds them so it is up to YOU Mr or Mrs Event Planning Professional to DO YOUR HOMEWORK on any program that you may be considering. You are on your own.

The information is there, you just need to peel back some layers and find it.

By knowing the whole truth, planners can make more informed decisions about their CSR programs to strengthen them which will lead to true change and not just slathering lipstick on a pig.

What is needed, now more than ever is transparency. Transparency helps all of us avoid embarrassment, anguish and hypocrisy.

Transparency will allow planners to make decisions that fit the needs of the group and help us actually do some good in the world.

So, tell me your thoughts on these corporate PACs, will this affect the way that you make decisions regarding event programs? The only way that we can create change is to speak up.

You now have the floor…………

*Photo Credit Pierre Tourigny

*All Facts from Wikipedia and the Center for Responsive Politics

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston

Keith is the Managing Partner of i3 Events but is most widely known as the outspoken publisher of the event industry blog PlannerWire. In addition to co-hosting the Bullet List and Event Tech Pull Up Podcasts, he has been featured in Plan Your Meetings, Associations Now, Convene, Event Solutions, and has appeared on the cover of Midwest Meetings Magazine.

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