People say they swear off red meat for dietary reasons or for humanitarian beliefs. But it’s also possible that their motives are political. That is, they’re not buying “red” meat sold by companies with Boards or employees that donate to the Republican Party. For those politically charged enough to want to know the ideological leanings of the people behind the brand: don’t worry, there’s an app for that.
Spend Consciously’s BuyPartisan is the first app that scans products’ barcodes and delivers information about the political contributions of the companies that make them. The data come from the Center for Responsive Politics, the SunlightFoundation and the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Though currently in beta mode, the app’s website claims to have the information of Fortune 250 companies for most stores. It provides a “nutrition label for your political values,” according to its iTunes page.
The app was created by Matthew Colbert, a former Capitol Hill staffer. While Colbert doesn’t strongly identify with either political party, he does hope that those who do can reflect their stances in their shopping habits. “We’re trying to make every day election day for people,” Colbert said, as quoted in an LA Times article.
The Economist magazine recently featured the app, jokingly commenting that liberals would be relieved that Starbucks and Apple primarily donate blue (but shocked that Quinoa Corporation almost entirely gives to the Republican Party). The article does bring up a serious and important question: Do shoppers really care enough to let their political affiliations affect their buying habits? Others are wondering if buying only Republican or Democrat has any noticeable effect, or if the action is done purely out of principle.
Simple economics and common sense tells us that consumers purchase products with lower prices. However, there are bountiful exceptions to the rule: buyers also consider brand and what’s associated with it – reputation, quality and communal consequences of the purchase. In turn, they can also boycott the products that go against their values. Some of these moves make sense: abstaining from fur coats, water bottles or GMOs punishes certain companies in a small way. In large enough numbers, these buyers can make companies discern and maybe address what they’re doing wrong.
“Voting with your wallet,” as The Economist phrases it, may carry less of an impact. For one thing, if enough Democrats rebelled against Campbell Soups’ very Republican-oriented donation, would the company instantly recognize that its political donations caused a dip in profits? It seems unlikely that a big corporation would adjust their business model by simply donating a different way – and risk losing favor with another huge portion of Americans, Republicans. From the consumer standpoint, it may not make much sense to stop sipping Pellegrino or substitute out Folger’s Coffee for the sake of making a (less than obvious) statement.
Undoubtedly, there are times that politics jumps into the spotlight of business. Consider the response to Chick-Fil-A president Dan T. Cathy’s opposition to gay marriage or the recent Supreme Court case on Hobby Lobby. When powerful entities with strong beliefs emerge and stir reactions, people respond, impassioned. Yet no serious campaign or boycott has emerged regarding the political contributions.
Perhaps it’s too early to tell if one ever will; after all, the app is relatively new and not widely used. BuyPartisan does add a layer of transparency into money flow and certainly reflects how polarized our two-party system has become. But not everything about it has to be ideological. If anything, the app can provide some entertainment by uncovering surprising results.