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The Washington Post had a fascinating story on fundraising activities taking place on behalf of President Bush's reelection effort - and much of the emphasis was on the specific efforts of Steven Burd, chairman, president and CEO of Safeway Inc.

Burd, the Post reports, "is the nexus of a wide network of subordinates and suppliers, as well as friends in corporate suites. And that is why he will play a critical role in President Bush's effort to raise the largest amount of money ever spent on a presidential campaign -- not by giving a lot of money himself, but by finding a lot of people to give relatively little."

The Post continues: "At two Bush fundraising events in California last month, Burd filled 10 tables with Safeway suppliers, including rice farmers, strawberry growers and a cheese manufacturer, plus representatives of Breyers ice cream, Sunkist produce and Del Monte canned goods who paid $2,000 to hear Bush talk. Each donor wrote a four-digit "solicitor tracking code" assigned to Burd on his check so that the Safeway CEO will receive credit from Bush campaign officials and they can keep a running tally of his efforts. The possible rewards, depending on how much money he can bring in, include cocktails with campaign architect Karl Rove, dinner with Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans and photo opportunities and sessions with the president."

Burd's efforts are called "bundling," according to the paper, and are at the heart of the Bush campaign's efforts to raise money despite restrictions created by the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that reduces the ability of mega-donors to dominate political campaigns.
KC's View:
When we were working our way through high school in a chain of small clothing stores, our employer was one of those great, community-minded people who allowed virtually anyone to post public service notices and announcements on and near the front door. There was only one restriction: nothing political was permitted.

"It doesn't make sense," we remember him saying. "If I put something political up there, all I'm going to do is tick half of my customers off. No way."

Certainly, Steve Burd has the right to campaign and raise money for anyone he wants to; it is his right as a citizen, and he didn’t give up those rights when he became CEO at Safeway.

But does it make sense, especially at a time when Safeway is experiencing its share of troubles in a highly competitive environment. After all, Safeway is a strong presence in California, Oregon and Washington State - places that have a lot of Democrats living there, Democrats who could decide to shop elsewhere because of Burd's overt political activities.

And what about Safeway shareholders? At a time when the company is having problems in Texas, has had to apologize to shoppers in Pennsylvania because of mistakes made once it acquired Genuardi's, and is selling Dominick's because it managed to disenfranchise its shopping base -- well, maybe shareholders could question why so much time is being spent fundraising.

Let's take it a step farther. How does the political strong-arming that Burd is using on "rice farmers, strawberry growers and a cheese manufacturer, plus representatives of Breyers ice cream, Sunkist produce and Del Monte canned goods" impact the prices that Safeway pays those suppliers for goods, and that consumers pay for those products in the marketplace?

Burd's assertion may be that he is acting as an independent citizen, not as a CEO. But the presence of all those suppliers belies that defense.

We're not sure there is a single, all-purpose answer to any of these questions. After all, one of the best food retailers in the world is Feargal Quinn - who also happens to be an elected member of the Irish Senate. So clearly there are circumstances under which a retailer can effectively be both politician and marketer.

But we can't help but think that these are questions that need to be addressed and seriously considered.