Omaha World Herald: Some shareholders hope Buffett gets off his soapbox - Others don't

Some shareholders hope Buffett gets off his soapbox
By Steve Jordon
Omaha World Herald, May 3, 2012

Warren Buffett's idea of fair taxes is part of a long tradition of business leaders' views leaking into politics, but becoming an issue in a contentious presidential campaign is not without its risks.

Since last fall, President Barack Obama has made many references to the “Buffett rule,” the president's proposal of a minimum income tax on people who make $1 million or more a year. He borrowed the idea from Buffett's writings that ultra-rich people shouldn't pay lower tax rates than middle-class Americans.

While some agree with Buffett, reactions have included sharp criticism and scrutiny of Buffett, his company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., and even his secretary.

But what do Berkshire shareholders think of their CEO's outspokenness? There are signs that some shareholders are irked by Buffett's political profile, but there's little evidence so far that the headlines and commentary are affecting Berkshire stock or the profits from Berkshire's varied collection of businesses.

“I know there's some high-income people out there that wish Buffett would keep his mouth shut about taxes,” said Julius Ridgway, whose clients at Medley & Brown in Jackson, Miss., own shares in Berkshire. Buffett hosts an expected 35,000 shareholders for their annual meeting Saturday at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha.
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Opponents of the Buffett rule include the International Franchise Association, which says the rule would keep franchise owners from creating new jobs. One member of the association: Berkshire's Dairy Queen division.

But three other small-business groups, the American Sustainable Business Council, the Business for Shared Prosperity and the Main Street Alliance, support the proposal. They say few small-business owners would be affected and the rule would make the nation's tax burden more fair, just as Buffett says.

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Buffett said in a recent TV interview that, since most people can't afford a political action committee to influence government, he has a responsibility to speak out on public issues. “I think that if you have an ability to speak out and you see things that you think are wrong, I think you ought to talk about them.”

Industrialist Andrew Carnegie, financiers J.P. Morgan and Andrew Mellon and others were active politically in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when the nation's leaders faced some of the same issues as today: taxes on the wealthy, regulation of business, the economy.
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The Omaha World-Herald Co. is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1080, steve.jordon@owh.com, twitter.com/buffettOWH

Copyright 2012 Omaha World Herald

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