- Warren Buffett hasn’t endorsed Joe Biden for president despite backing both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and criticizing Donald Trump in recent years.
- The billionaire investor and Berkshire Hathaway CEO has defended his right to take a political stance, but may be worried about angry customers, or disgruntled employees, if he takes a side in this election.
- “My political views, I don’t think I put them in a blind trust at all,” Buffett said at Berkshire’s annual meeting in 2018.
- “You have to be careful about when you do speak because it’s going to be assumed you’re speaking on behalf of your company,” he said during last year’s annual meeting.
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The famed investor and Berkshire Hathaway CEO’s silence is especially surprising as he’s repeatedly defended his right to get involved in politics in recent years.
“My political views, I don’t think I put them in a blind trust at all when I took the job,” Buffett said about his leadership responsibilities during Berkshire’s annual meeting in 2018, according to a transcript on Sentieo, a financial-research site.
Buffett “raised a lot of money” for Clinton in 2016 and “spoke out in various ways that were quite frank,” he continued. “When I do that … I’m speaking as a private citizen, and I don’t think I have any business speaking for Berkshire.”
The investor tackled the topic after a shareholder asked about Berkshire’s willingness to own gun stocks.
“I do not believe in imposing my political opinions on the activities of our businesses,” Buffett said.
“We’re not going to ban all guns, surrounded by wild turkeys in Omaha,” added Charlie Munger, his longtime business partner and Berkshire’s vice-chairman.
Walking the line
Buffett, who privately spoke to Biden about America’s unmatched potential to lead the world last month, hinted at his reasons for not publicly backing him during Berkshire’s annual meeting in 2019.
“You have to be careful about when you do speak, because it’s going to be assumed you’re speaking on behalf of your company,” he said. In other words, if Buffett voiced support for Biden, Berkshire could face backlash in the form of customers boycotting its brands, or outraged employees in its fossil-fuel businesses.
Buffett has tried to draw a distinction between personal and corporate contributions to politicians. If any of his managers used Berkshire funds to support their political views, that would constitute a “breach of trust,” he said at the 2017 meeting.
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However, Buffett acknowledged that Berkshire subsidiaries involved in railroads, utilities, and other heavily regulated industries likely have to make political contributions to match their competitors.
“I’m sure they give money to people that I wouldn’t vote for,” he said. “But that is the reality of doing business in certain businesses which have a significant political aspect to their activities.”
Still, Buffett has ensured that his company as a whole doesn’t choose sides.
“Berkshire Hathaway, certainly in 54 years, has never, and will never, make a contribution to a presidential candidate,” the investor said at the annual meeting last year, adding that he doesn’t think it has ever donated to any political candidate.