Two wealthy men, Stephen Prince and Eric Schoenberg, this week participated in an unusual lobbying campaign in the nation’s capital by advocating a $15-an-hour minimum wage for all American full time workers.
As two leaders of the non-partisan group “Patriotic Millionaires,” the two described in an interview with the Justice Integrity Project why they support the organization and its goals to reduce income inequality and otherwise foster a better society. The interview took place at one of the long bare tables at the Dirksen Senate Office Building cafeteria. They and a half dozen colleagues and staffers from their Washington, DC-based group were taking a lunch break from their visits to elected representatives.
“We know there’s going to be a tax cut in the next Congress,” said Prince, shown at right, the vice-chair of Patriotic Millionaires and a Tennessee businessman who founded in 1993 National Business Products, now known as Card Marketing Services. ”But we want to make sure there’s a benefit also for the middle class and the lower-class.”
An increase in the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is the simplest and otherwise best way to ensure that goal, Prince continued.
More generally, he said the economy will improve if ordinary Americans have stronger buying power for low-priced store goods and items like used pickups. He said his experience goes against “trickle down” economic theory that helping the rich benefits lower classes in an efficient manner.
Tax laws already are adequate to enable him to create new businesses successfully as he has in the past, he said. So, he does not expect windfalls from the next Congress in reduced taxes to prompt significant changes in CEOs’ business strategies and personal spending beyond increasing inequality.
Schoenberg, chairman of CampusWorks, Inc., a provider of technology leadership services to universities and colleges, echoed Prince’s goals and conclusions. Schoenberg (shown at left) holds a doctoral degree and also teaches about "family wealth" as an adjunct associate professor at the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
He said his perspective comes in part from observing economic inequality in South America as a State Department Foreign Service Officer early in his career. The wealthy could not enjoy their riches in comfort and safety surrounded by so many poor, he observed. Therefore, many of them moved to Florida. He fears the same pattern is occurring here and now, and must be changed for the sake of his children and those of others.The group began the week by meeting with top progressive funders at the Democracy Alliance retreat, and proceeded to two days of intense lobbying with several Senators, top officials from both parties, leading progressive organizations and dozens of major donors.
If President-elect Donald Trump is serious about cutting a new deal for American workers -- and we dearly hope he is -- he can prove it by signing a new minimum wage bill within the first 100 days of his administration. By signing a bill, President-elect Trump will be giving an immediate raise to the millions and millions of the white working class voters who formed the heart of his victory.
The issue has clear bi-partisan support with 63% of all Americans supporting raising the wage to $15 an hour and 75% supporting an increase to at least $12 an hour.
The group said it was demanding that Democrats "draw a firm line in the sand in negotiations with President-elect Trump and GOP leadership around minimum wage and taxes." Patriotic Millionaires describes itself as "a group of 200 high-net-worth Americans who are committed to building a more prosperous, stable, and inclusive nation. The group focuses on promoting public policy solutions that encourage political equality; guarantee a sustaining wage for working Americans; and ensure that millionaires, billionaires, and corporations pay a greater percentage of taxes."
"Four out of ten Americans make less than $15 an hour," their materials note. "Raising the federal minimum wage is a critical first step in a fundamental reset of the American economy."
Last Tuesday, across five minimum wage ballot initiatives, Americans overwhelmingly embraced a new economic deal for working people, they said, pointed to their map.
"Every single one of the five minimum wage-related ballot initiatives was successful. These initiatives aren't succeeding in blue states, they are succeeding in all states. As a result of Tuesday's successes, 2.3 million Americans will get a raise and $3.5 billion will be injected into state economies."
Their conclusion: "More money = less economic anxiety = less fear = less fertile ground for hate-mongering, violence, and irresponsible decision-making."
The Patriotic Millionaires have appeared on hundreds of media outlets here and abroad. Prince said he became involved by seeing the group's outreach coordinator Erica Payne, speaking on Fox News.
The group last year released its first volume of “Re-Negotiating Power and Money in America,” which outlines a new “Term Sheet” for the country. In business deals, a term sheet is a bullet-point document that outlines the material terms and conditions of a business agreement. The Patriotic Millionaires Term Sheet includes three things:
- Citizens enjoy access to political power equal to that of millionaires, lobbyists and corporate CEOs;
- All citizens who work full time are guaranteed a wage sufficient to cover their basic needs;
- Tax receipts from millionaires/billionaires and major corporations comprise a greater proportion of federal tax revenues.
“Hard working Americans from both parties -- and neither party -- are sick and tired of watching their bank accounts dwindle while a tiny number of well-connected elites get richer. Both the primary and the general elections saw a wholesale rejection of establishment economics and the political system that supports it,” said Patriotic Millionaire Chair Morris Pear, a former managing director of Wall Street's Blackrock in in a prepared statement. “If President Trump really wants to cut a better deal for America he should prove it. He should immediately raise the minimum wage so that American citizens can know -- with certainty -- that if they are working, they will be able to afford their basic needs. And his tax plans needs to ensure that millionaires and corporations are paying a bigger percentage of the tab for running this country, they have skipped out on the bill for too long.”
We asked Prince and Schoenberg about reaction so far to their message.
"There's a great sense of uncertainty about what the Trump presidency will bring," Prince responded, except that prospects look bright in general for the rich.
Beyond that, he continued, "We would like to see a $15 dollars an hour minimum wage, indexed to some acceptable economic barometer so that we don't have to go through this every couple of years. Pay for members of Congress is indexed to go up that way automatically, and it's only fair that such a system be applied also to the minimum wage."