Modern Liberalism is more about politics than policy. Even the most devout liberals are not immune to the legal harassment levied against other entrepreneurs.
By all standards Steve Ells, CEO and founder of Chipotle Mexican Grill, is a model liberal. He believes in sustainable agriculture, has a restaurant that is vegetarian friendly, and calls Earth “The Planet.”
He also believes in charity. Chipotle has a foundation that supports family farms and fights against childhood obesity. They even know how to say “No Boy Scouts Allowed” in proper Liberalese: “Chipotle will not support organizations that discriminate against a person or a group on the basis of age, political affiliation, race, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation or religious belief.“
Sure you would expect any successful chain to face nuisance lawsuits. Last year, a Mexican National sued a Minneapolis Chipotle for violating his human rights by denying him a beer. They actually asked him for more identification than the State of Minnesota requires to vote. The chain was also sued by a man in a wheelchair who claimed that the counters were too high for him to watch his burrito being prepared, denying him of his “full Chipotle experience.”
There were investigations by Homeland Security, ICE, and the Department of Justice; few successful restaurants today can escape such scrutiny. Since they were busted in 2010, Chipotle has been using a government-run system called E-Verify to identify job candidates not eligible for employment.
Personally, I don’t see a problem with hiring Mexicans to work in a Mexican restaurant. If you go to a sushi restaurant there is a reasonable expectation that the chef is going to be Japanese. In fact, if you intend to order the potentially deadly blowfish, Fugu, you should probably demand it. You expect French chefs to have an accent and bakers to be fat. So there should be nothing wrong with expecting a real Mexican behind the counter at a burrito shop (I've always thought it was part of the full Chipotle experience).
After two years of jumping through hoops to satisfy federal authorities, Steve has a new immigration investigation to worry about, this time from the Securities and Exchange Commission. It is puzzling why the SEC would launch such an investigation. It seems a little out of their jurisdiction (Perhaps Jamie Dimon left his wallet there).
It seems like the Administration is targeting Chipotle for a little special attention. But why would they attack one of their own? Chipotle should rank high on the First Lady’s list of healthy choices. And they make a low-carbon burrito big enough to satisfy Al Gore.
It could be for Chipotle’s hiring of Julie Myers, former head of ICE and a controversial Bush appointee, to handle their immigration problems. More than likely, though, it stems from the corporation’s stated policy of not donating to “lobbying, political or fraternal activities.” Indeed, a quick stop over at OpenSecrets.org verifies that Steve doesn’t believe in mixing business and politics and hasn’t given a dime to any political candidates.
This is politics Chicago-style (apparently, deep-dish pizza isn’t the only tradition nationally franchised out of the Windy City). It’s flat-out harassment. The Administration is trying to convince the restaurant that it would be more profitable to donate than to pay legal fees. As the adage goes, Hell hath no fury like a liberal denied his protection money.
It’s also the most likely reason why General Motors publicly pulled their Facebook ads on the verge of the IPO: retaliation for Eduardo Saverin’s renunciation of his citizenship. In case you wonder why other billionaires claim that they aren’t paying enough taxes: it‘s easier to repeat the Administration’s talking points than to fight them. Apparently, just being liberal isn’t enough anymore.
On the bright side, it is really hard to imagine Steve Ells ever voting for Obama again. While we might have differences on the environment and vegetarian food, I’m sure that Steve and I are on the exact same page when it comes to the freedom to conduct business.
I also like his carnitas.