Target Faces Protests over Political Donation

Discussion
Aug 02, 2010
Tom Ryan

By Tom Ryan

As several "Boycott Target" groups sprang up on Facebook,
Target Corp. on Friday defended its $150,000 donation to a group supporting
ultra-conservative Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate, Tom Emmer,
who openly opposes gay marriage. Target was able to make the donation because
of the Supreme Court’s recent decision that threw out parts of a 63-year-old
law that prohibited campaign donations from corporations.

In an e-mail to employees,
Target’s chief executive officer Gregg Steinhafel wrote that the donation was
a business decision.

"Target has a history of supporting organizations and candidates, on
both sides of the aisle, who seek to advance policies aligned with our business
objectives, such as job creation and economic growth," wrote Mr. Steinhafel. "It
is also important to note that we rarely endorse all advocated positions of
organizations or candidates we support, and we do not have a political or social
agenda."

He also reiterated the retailer’s dedication to equal rights.

"Let me
be very clear, Target’s support for the GLBT community is unwavering, and inclusiveness
remains a core value of our company," said Mr. Steinhafel.
He then listed a number of ways the company supports diversity, including providing
domestic partner benefits and the sponsorship of the annual Twin Cities Gay
Pride Festival.

The Citizens United ruling changed regulations in about half
of the states, but the Target donation in Minnesota was said to be among the
first major new corporate actions to face scrutiny. Local and national gay
rights groups have particularly condemned the action. By late Sunday, one Facebook
group, "Boycott
Target Until They Cease Funding Anti-Gay Politics," had more than 27,000
followers.

Best Buy’s contribution to the same organization is also being protested.
But Target was said to be singled out because of Mr. Emmer’s conservative views,
which include support of Arizona’s immigration laws.

"[The contribution] seems really contradictory to how they’ve acted in
the past," Monica Meyer, the interim head of the gay rights group OutFront
Minnesota told ABC News. "I do think that people are rethinking
their shopping, particularly during election season. And I have heard some
people saying it’s a good thing Costco exists."

A website, www.goodguide/contributions,
breaks out each corporation’s political donations by party. Although skewed
toward Republican donations, Costco, along with Gap, Walgreens, Rite Aid and
Starbucks, are reportedly among the retailers generally supporting Democratic
causes.

Discussion Questions: Should retailers openly support one political party
over another? How big a risk is a consumer backlash from such actions?

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23 Comments on "Target Faces Protests over Political Donation"


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Max Goldberg
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

When companies make donations to politicians and political causes, they set themselves up for criticism. Today’s political environment is toxic and no matter which way a company leans, it is sure to upset some of its customers. A warning to retailers: donate at your own risk.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 9 months ago

Everything in life has become a risk. No position that any retailer takes today will go unchallenged. Communicated messages about an issue that someone doesn’t agree with will bring out protesters. So why do retailers choose to get into such messes? I don’t know. It would be better for Target to try to find other ways to support political candidates and other favored issues, but I don’t believe Target or any retailer should be intimidated away from having their convictions.

Roger Saunders
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

Retailing has been a major economic force in this country for the past 150 years. Retailers, like other businesses, have interests that involve the political community. They should exercise the courage of their conviction, just as TARGET and BEST BUY are doing in this instance.

Both firms are backing a candidate of their choice, NOT because of a single issue. The characters who are trumping the “Facebook” campaign are off base. TARGET has a long history of supporting diversity.

Take a stand. It works.

David Livingston
Guest
10 years 9 months ago
Sometimes consumer groups fail to understand the relationship between business and politics. It is often necessary to grease the palms of politicians in order to advance the agenda of the company. These politicians might be of a different party than some of your consumer groups. Still you have to be real and, if this candidate has a high probability of winning, then you need to be on his or her good side. Often it really doesn’t matter which party the politician belongs to or what kind of agenda they have. Politicians will say or support whatever they need to in order to have the best chance of getting elected. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what the politician supports in public to get voters. What is more important is, will I get a nice ROI on my contribution? My guess is that if the gay-lesbian community would donate $150,000 to Mr. Emmer, he might just have a change of heart. It’s a calculated business expense built into the system. My clients and I… Read more »
Warren Thayer
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

I agree totally with Max Goldberg, and hereby endorse him for President.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
10 years 9 months ago
This Supreme Court ruling is going to affect our country for decades to come. It hasn’t gotten nearly enough press. Companies, including retailers, will be emboldened to support candidates they perceive fit one or more of their agenda items. Backlash will ensue. What retailers should do and what they WILL do are two different things. They should not, but they will. I can still remember being “gently suggested” to sign a petition requesting Congress grant China most favored nation status back in the ’80s, because my employer–a private label shoe retailer–wanted to have the lowest possible costs. In the spirit of the era, I “just said no.” Perhaps scariest of all is the overarching climate of anger and fear that pervades this country now. The Tea Party has its issues, social conservatives have their point of view, and now we’ll get to see serious backlash from the other side. It’s a sad state of affairs. As for me personally, I won’t shop Target or Best Buy any more frequently than I now buy BP gasoline.… Read more »
David Morse
Guest
David Morse
10 years 9 months ago
Supporting Tom Emmer was a blunder and Target should step up to the plate and admit so. There are about 17 to 18 million adult gays and lesbians living in the United States who care passionately about the issue of gay marriage and will not hesitate to boycott a company that supports the contrary position. Supporting an anti-gay politician would be the equivalent of a retailer supporting segregation in the 1960s, and then expecting African Americans to patronize its stores. Target is clearly not anti-gay. Its past support of the LGBT community, its reliance on gay consumer dollars, and its dependence on gay employees (it’s a retailer, for heaven’s sake) demonstrate its appreciation of this market. With its support of Emmer, all its pro-gay efforts have been for naught. Rather than offering weak excuses, Target should publicly apologize to the gay community, and back that apology up with tangible (read monetary) support. They blew it. My bet is that they realize it, and lots of support will be forthcoming. Including an apology. Target simply can’t… Read more »
Ian Percy
Guest
10 years 9 months ago
Max has it right. The thing is, if they stop donating “openly” what’s the other option–“secretly?” How will that make our society healthy, honest, caring and cohesive? As a grateful and enterprising new US citizen I still don’t get the anger, fear, obsession, and even hatred pervading every dimension of our society–all driven by politics. It’s just a no-win all around. It seems one can’t go a single hour without running into a tirade about guns or gays or government. To make matters worse most of those tirades are sadly uninformed and illogical; they’re just angry. I think most of the anger comes out of meaninglessness and these hot ‘issues’ become a futile substitute for purpose. So a company gives money to someone who doesn’t totally match up with your beliefs–yup, let’s put all our energy into a boycott, cause as much unrest as we possibly can and see if we can damage an enterprise that employs hundreds of thousands of people and keeps thousands of vendors in business. I swear if someone was for… Read more »
Anne Bieler
Guest
Anne Bieler
10 years 9 months ago

Politics and business make difficult relationships. Shoppers want to believe retailers stand for them and their community–messages about politicians and their values can be troubling. People reach their own conclusions, so it will be in Target’s interest to make their intentions clear, again, and learn from this.

David Livingston
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

I would not go so far to say supporting Tom Emmer was a blunder by Target. Sure, Target might lose a few million in sales from the gay-lesbian community. On the other hand perhaps Mr. Emmer can put roadblocks up keeping Wal-Mart, Costco and other competitors from opening stores. Maybe he can get Target’s tax rate dropped. Maybe he can make sure Target gets that exit ramp off the freeway and Wal-Mart doesn’t. The list goes on. It was a calculated risk and we won’t know the ROI on that contribution for some time yet. It’s too early to tell if it was a blunder.

W. Frank Dell II
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

Businesses can and should make contributions to candidates that they believe supports their values and visions. It must always be done in a legal fashion. No matter which candidate one supports today, there is a fringe group that will be unhappy with one element of a candidate’s platform. Single issue candidates do not represent the majority of citizens. The role of elected offices is to represent all, not just the minority.

The political reality is, while minority groups make a lot of noise, they don’t sway the voter mass. Boycotts have not really worked in years. Voters will not agree with every plank in a candidate’s platform, they vote for the one they agree most with. This is human nature.

No matter how big a fringe group wants people to believe they are: the majority of the time they are less than 5%. This is America, not Russia, where 10% ruled but fewer than half of them believed; they just wanted a job.

Ben Ball
Guest
10 years 9 months ago
Perhaps the key word in Tom Ryan’s question is “openly” support. Businesses of all stripes have always engaged in political contribution and lobbying–either directly or indirectly through associations. And why shouldn’t they? Business contributes as much or more than any individual (certain multi-billionaires excepted perhaps) to funding of government–both directly through corporate taxes and indirectly through employee payroll taxes, taxes on dividends, etc. So why should they be excluded from the right to try to influence that government the same way the aforementioned multi-billionaires do? Or the same way you and I do with our convicted, if not convincingly large, contributions to our favorite candidates and causes? And while there are certainly multiple views of the Supreme Court’s ruling in CU, the net result was to eliminate an attempt to muzzle both corporate and private groups who band together to support issues they feel passionately about–whether it be the GLBT community or the tea party. As for retailer’s choosing to make individual contributions and the business impact, the game changer in this situation is the… Read more »
Joan Treistman
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

I think Max says it all. Since I am in the midst of reading a book about the holocaust, I am inclined to prefer the openness of political support regardless of who receives the support. It allows me and others to make informed choices regarding our support in terms of shopping and politics.

While the Target decision may not be in line with my political point of view, it has created greater awareness of a governor’s race and the strategy used by other retailers along with the individuals and policies they promote. It’s then up to citizens to examine these actions and perspectives and then make their own more informed decisions when voting and shopping. I hope that this transparency continues.

David Biernbaum
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

Retailers choose to support political candidates at their own risk. Unfortunately for Target, they are now confronted with “Boycott Target” groups springing up on Facebook, because they openly donated $150,000 to Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate, Tom Emmer, who openly opposes gay marriage. It’s all unfortunate on so many levels all the way around because our political system depends on such donations from corporations, as well as individuals, but retailers need to be careful about the message to their very own consumers that such donations might indicate.

Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
10 years 9 months ago

Retailers need to be exceedingly careful about publicly supporting political candidates and causes, especially retailers such as Target which serve such a broad assortment of customers. Michael Jordan famously declined to publicly support a Democratic Senate candidate, saying “Republicans buy shoes, too.” Whatever you think of his politics (or lack thereof), Jordan is a savvy businessman and brand marketer. Every action has its price, and publicly supporting political candidates, especially ones with views seen as controversial by many of your potential customers, may well cost you potential business.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 9 months ago
I remember deciding years ago not to put political bumper stickers supporting one candidate over another on my car. The reason was simple: I don’t know, or care, who my customers support; but I did not want to risk offending them by showing who I support. To this day I do not have bumper stickers on my car. Nothing has changed. I do not and cannot afford to lose any business or business opportunities because of my political preferences especially in this heated environment. Business issues can not be separated from the world issues as a whole. What affects us in the world arena also affects us in the retail world when we connect the dots by speaking out, donating excessive funding or supporting issues contrary to the normal ebb and flow of our new daily life. Target has some clean up work to do in order to make this a non issue at the cash registers. Customers will defy the decisions they disagree with in the only way available, shopping where it will hurt… Read more »
John Karolefski
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

Taking a political stand openly is a no-win situation for retailers. No matter what side of an issue or the aisle they are on, retailers will annoy and perhaps alienate some of their shoppers. Rather than get into politics or controversial issues, retailers should restrict themselves to supporting and donating to causes that everyone can get behind–cancer research, help for disabled veterans, and so on. Such action might event attract new shoppers to their stores.

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
10 years 9 months ago

The idea of a staging a boycott over this issue reminds me a little of the day everyone was going to quit Facebook…and then didn’t.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
10 years 9 months ago
Corporate political donations have little to do with people or policies and everything to do with ROI, and that of course is the problem. Be assured that if Target donated $150,000 to this candidate or any other, that they weigh that investment against other spending alternatives and judged that the donation would bring the company a higher return than spending $150,000 directly on the business. To do anything else would be mismanagement. In this case the gay groups might be upset with Target while those opposed to gay marriage may be yelling “bravo,” but the real losers are all the people. As a business investment this donation is made so that Target can influence government policies in their favor, rather than that of the people. When Michael Bloomberg first ran for Mayor of New York City, the organization that represented the real estate developers wanted to make a substantial contribution to his campaign. He was running as a Republican and historically they made their contributions to the Republican candidates, never to the Democratic candidate. Bloomberg… Read more »
Janet Dorenkott
Guest
Janet Dorenkott
10 years 9 months ago

I think the sad reality is that you only have to be careful if you are supporting a conservative. If you support a liberal, the media positions you as a good guy. Did anyone hear that Home Depot supported a gay pride fest or that Disney supported a homosexual benefit or that Estee Lauder donates to Planned Parenthood? My guess is no. You may agree or disagree with those causes, but the bottom line is some people disagree with the conservative agenda and some disagree with the liberal agenda.

Companies and individuals donate where they believe it benefits themselves, their business or their community. Scrutinize all you like, but do it on both sides of the aisle. A little more balance from our media would be a very welcomed change.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

I agree with Max (like so many others that responded earlier).

Let the donator beware! No matter which candidate or cause a company supports they are likely to offend someone. The question they have to ask is the downside of supporting “X” worth the risk. If yes, then do so. If no, then don’t.

Geoffrey Igharo
Guest
Geoffrey Igharo
10 years 9 months ago
I doubt that the marketing people at Target would have been in favour of this move. They’re pretty savvy–and it’s unlikely that they would have said “yes, let’s support an extreme candidate,” no matter what party he or she was from. More likely, this move reflects what really is going on with corporate donations: the CEO or a small handful of top execs are donating corporate money to candidates that they PERSONALLY support. And in the process, will end up costing the company millions of dollars in lost sales. I’m against political donations being allowed for companies–after all there is a reason corporations can’t vote at the ballot–they aren’t people. But moves like this will actually do a lot of good for democracy, as they will backfire and raise people’s consciousness on the issue, while forcing them to examine the politics of the companies they patronise. We’ll see how many CEOs are foolish enough to keep hijacking their company’s political capital for personal use. I doubt there will be many more. The costs in lost… Read more »
Phil Rubin
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

Fascinating how vocal the BrainTrust is on the topic of retailers making political statements of support.

While there is ample room for cynicism and vitriol, the reality is that companies that have and continue to invest in their brands need to be mindful their views and political leanings. These actions have a direct impact on their brand and their customers’ relationships with their brands.

At the same time, companies have a responsibility to their communities–including employees, customers and partners–and what Target and Best Buy have done is alienate specific segments within those communities.

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