Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Real America: Target CEO Chooses "Business" over Gay Rights

targetLast week, after we profiled Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, we asked why retailer Target would support Emmer, by way of a PAC called MN Forward. Target's statement to us argued that "Target supports causes and candidates based strictly on issues that affect our retail and business interests."

Meanwhile, outrage continues to build within the gay community and within communities that support gay rights, directly challenging Target's interpretation of its best "business interests." Unfortunately for Target, the story is now spilling out of the state and getting national media attention.

But Target, long a supporter of gay equality in both its own organization and within Minnesota, maybe deserves a second chance. Some of the details about Emmer's anti-gay positions are only now getting more attention. For example, while his position against gay marriage was well known, his direct support for a group that advocates the execution of homosexuals overseas is just now receiving wider exposure (even though his possible finance violation associated with this group was known back in May).

We reached out to Target again, to see if, a week later, the corporation is starting to see its "retail agenda" in a different light. Target public relations gave us the below internal memo which CEO Gregg Steinhafel distributed to Target headquarters team members today:

Dear Target Team,

In the past week I've heard from some of you, including our GLBT team members, regarding your concerns with Target's recent contributions to MN Forward, an independent expenditure committee that is supported by a broad coalition of large and small businesses throughout the state, including the Minnesota Business Partnership and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

As you know, 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. MN Forward is focused specifically on those issues and is committed to supporting candidates from any party who will work to improve the state's job climate. However, it is also important to note that we rarely endorse all advocated positions of the organizations or candidates we support, and we do not have a political or social agenda.

In the context of this contribution, some of you have raised questions regarding our commitment to diversity, and more specifically, the GLBT community. Let me be very clear, Target's support of the GLBT community is unwavering, and inclusiveness remains a core value of our company. Some current examples of that support include:

• Domestic Partner Benefits
• Sponsorship of Twin Cities Pride
• Sponsorship of Minnesota AIDS Walk

In addition, Target's rating of 100% on the 2009 and 2010 Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index further demonstrates the reputation our company has earned.

As CEO, I consider it my responsibility to create conditions in which Target can thrive, and I promise to do so with the best interests of our guests, team, shareholders and communities in mind. I appreciate your input and understanding.



Is Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel sincere? I would hope so. Certainly, being the CEO of a billion-dollar corporation is no small task, and I can only imagine, for such a man, that black and white is a luxury.

Of course, Steinhafel's case for his sincerity isn't helped by his personal recent contribution record. That he donated $5,000 to outgoing Republican Minnesota governor, and possible Presidential candidate, Tim Pawlenty's "Freedom First" PAC is no surprise. And the $5,000 of his money that went to the Retail Industry Leaders Association PAC seems a responsible move for a Target CEO.

But then there is the March 2010 donation of $5,000 (the individual limit allowed by the FEC) to Michele Bachmann's Bachmann Victory Committee.

Bachmann, the incumbent Republican representative from Minnesota's 6th Congressional District, is maybe the only Minnesota candidate to make Emmer look oh-so-gay-friendly. Bachmann, who supports a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage, has warned that gay marriage would lead to schools where "little children will be forced to learn that homosexuality is normal, natural and perhaps they should try it." She has asserted that gay men and women suffer a "dysfunction" and that the gay community targets American children as "prizes" to be recruited. Steinhafel's support is especially bizarre given that Bachmannn has bashed corporations that "support the pro-homosexual agenda."

A titan of business makes tough decisions. Priorities must be identified. Target's Gregg Steinhafel seems to have chosen his priorities both for Target and for himself. So what exactly does he mean when he tells his own employees, "Let me be very clear, Target's support of the GLBT community is unwavering…," while at the same time maxing out his personal donation to a pinnacle of crazy and gay hate? Is he a bigot? Probably not. More likely is that he's just a typical CEO, for whom the only "unwavering" thing is money.

Giving the retailer a final opportunity to be clear, we asked if Target could "guarantee consumers it will no longer fund MN Forward if that money will be going to Emmer." Their reply: "Target political philosophy is to support causes and candidates based strictly on issues that affect our retail and business objectives. We can't speculate on the nature of future contributions."

So, there you have it. Target leadership, at both the corporate and individual top executive level, affirms its "unwavering" support for the GLBT community as long as that support comes after all other support. Given the chance for a small PR victory, the brand even declined the opportunity to stop donating to MN Forward.

And it's not like the PAC needs any more of Target's money. Another Minneapolis-based retail giant's name just popped up on MN Forward's supporter list. Best Buy has also forked over $100,000 to the PAC backing Emmer. Another shock for the gay community, as Best Buy has for years supported many of the same events as Target.

And an update: Reporter David Brauer, at the excellent MinnPost, points out that both Steinhafel and his wife have personally maxed out with contributions directly to Tom Emmer's campaign.

Abe Sauer knows when someone is being thrown under a bus.

30 Comments / Post A Comment

KarenUhOh (#19)

As I indicated in comments to Abe's Friday post, I received a response to a brief, and probably a mite strident, repudiation that I wrote, re Target's contributions to MN Forward. I printed Target's response in a comment. It was high-minded, but corporately vague.

I followed up, and asked specific questions.

Here's what I sent:

I appreciated the courtesy of the reply. Since you invited the follow-up, I'm wondering if Target would answer the further brief questions:

1. Does Target endorse, or intend to endorse, Tom Emmer for Governor of Minnesota? If not, why not?

2. Has Target made any political contribution to any PAC whose support is for any other gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota? If so, whom; and how much has Target contributed?

3. How does Target reconcile its support for Mr. Emmer, through its support for MN Forward, the PAC that he is working with, with Target's own commitment to providing fair and equal working conditions for GLBT workers, and with Target's public embrace of the GLBT community?

Finally, and perhaps most critically, given the tenor of your response, on behalf of Target: If job promotion in Minnesota is such a critical component of Target's goals in electing political candidates, what is Target's commitment with respect to the number of jobs that it will create, and the number of jobs it will preserve, if the candidates Target endorses are elected? When I say "commitment," I would like to hear a specific number of jobs, as well as specific steps Target plans to take, in the event the candidates it supports take office.

To date, I've received no reply.

Great questions.

This is too bad. Target's almost the only affordable alternative to American-workers-hating Wal-Mart. But professing supposed support to the face of their gay employees and customers, while stabbing them in the back by supporting a homophobic politician, ISN'T support. It's called bigotry, and there's no "other side" to that – just more bigotry. (What is it with so many Republicans and conservatives in general – why are they so OBSESSED with "homo-sexuality"? I'm less obsessed about it than they are, and I'm gay!) Mr. Steinhafel is getting a letter from me, with my cut-up Target credit card enclosed, as soon as the USPS will deliver them.

NinetyNine (#98)

Huh. Interesting headline choice given the memo attached. Hooray Yahoo style guide!

Also: did I miss the part where Target became a GLBT non-profit?

Chris Conroy (#3,983)

They're not, and nobody says they have to be; but they also shouldn't be allowed to reap the benefits of being publicly seen as "gay-friendly" if that commitment is in fact very shallow indeed. That's all this is about — if their reputation is in fact based on false pretenses, then it's only fair to the public to inform them of that.

And I think I speak for everyone objecting to this when I say I refuse to believe there aren't ways of achieving their business goals that don't also sell out the gay community.

Abe Sauer (#148)

A troll with a New Yorker subscription is still a troll.

NinetyNine (#98)

But what is the false pretense?

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Are activists holding Target to an unrealistic standard? Sure. It's a tactic called "applying pressure." Once upon a time, integrated dining rooms were an unrealistic standard for businesses that wanted to retain their white clientele.

NinetyNine (#98)

@DD But the social pressure that was exerted in opposition to those mores was considerably more confrontational (and dangerous).

Can anyone name an effective consumer-based boycott, particularly in the past 25 years? Divestment boycotts are as close as you can get, and those aren't consumer based (since the economic power of an institution was brought to bear).

I'd explain the term 'tactics' to Abe, but he probably is too busy plugging his ears with Rage Against the Machine lyric sheets.

doubled277 (#2,783)

@doctordisaster Well said. This thread is closed (or should be!)

NinetyNine (#98)

Since most of the comments look like NYU students staging a 'sit-in' (quotes because they were so pathetic), I'd agree.

Matt (#26)

Ya tryin' ta tire me?

NinetyNine (#98)


Chris H (#6,352)

it is probably worth noting as well that Target just hired Matt Zabel as VP of Government Affairs. This is notable as Zabel was the chief of staff for Sen. John Thune

doubled277 (#2,783)

Who's John Thune? (No, I don't have google, okay)

NinetyNine (#98)

If it's not clear to anyone, what's going on here is MN Forward, which is mostly a sap to the Chamber of Commerce (a nasty, nasty institution in its own right) is going to use a big pile of money to flood the airwaves to insure that whatever big pile of money DFL candidate backs down from any new or increased corporate or personal taxes. Emmers craziness is an unfortunate distraction (at the corporate level — though personally I expect many of the C level people think he's just peachy) from that one issue for the corporate dollars pouring in.

But because, net, the impact of increased corporate taxes would be far worse than a drop off in sales because of a boycott, they are not going to back down. Note that the memo all but says "Yup, we're backing the creep." If this kind of calculus is gross, and if the exposure of the fact that getting richer precedes any notion of justice or equality, then boycott corporations, not just Target.

doubled277 (#2,783)

Sorry, but holding a standard that "if anyone, even in an ancillary way supports anti-gay speech or action, we're going to shine a bright light on you" is not hypocritical in any way. If you can't support a cause (or institution that supports a cause you support) without funding other crazy bullshit, then don't support that cause. If MN Forward were supporting the rights of the KKK to organize in public spaces or something stupid like that, Target wouldn't get away with it, and they shouldn't get away with this. Thing of it is, 40 years ago, MN Forward could have been supporting something absurd like the KKK in some way, and they would've gotten away with it. It's called progress, and it happens on the heels of attention like this article right here.

roboloki (#1,724)

we are impotent to effect change so we should embrace apathy or become anarchists. i reject this line of reasoning.

NinetyNine (#98)

That presumes you think the majority of public opinion supports gay marriage. Broad public opinion evolves slowly and not equally across issues, and, unfortunately it looks like its going backward in many areas. If there were a clear plurality on this issue, boycotts or broad based pressure would be effective. But it wasn't until 30 years after Brown v. Board of Education to mount network of corporate, cultural and political opposition to Apartheid — and most of the youngs probably don't know this, but on the corporate front in 1988 was was still really dicey (look at the list of artists who would play Sun City). So, yeah, it will be demographics that win this, and not for another 20 years. That sucks, but since there isn't screaming injustice like there was in Selma, boycotting a company that provides equal benefits to gay couples is not going make for an easy narrative of us vs. them. And the upshot of the victory is going to be… marriage? Wow. That's triangulation of the highest order and the xtains don't even realize how brilliant their strategy is.

I think it's a tactical error to try and play both sides of the fence — either you are at the barricades (look how well that has worked so far for the Tea Party), or you still choking on the fumes of Clintonian triangulation. Leftist groups love it when triangulation works to their limited favor (I'd say it never has, but that's a whole other point), and then think they can retreat to the 60s the minute they don't get their way. That's why we ended up with a shitty HCA.

hammerzeit (#6,350)

Company puts self-interest above all else, film at 11.

I'm all for holding their feet to the fire on this and making sure they're accountable, but I'd bet that the net effect here is that fewer companies will push to be gay-friendly. Not sure what that means in terms of optimal strategy, though.

laurel (#4,035)

What is the @#$%& point in limiting personal campaign contributions to $5K if corporations can give $150K?

This specific incident (Target claiming ‘a commitment to diversity' while giving to an anti-gay civil rights PAC) points up a larger, far-reaching problem for progressive causes: corporate contributions to political campaigns.

Publicly finance elections and Target's political influence disappears, leaving their employment practices and community involvement intact and their customers with far more power as voters and consumers.

scrooge (#2,697)

Great point, sb. Corporations should not be allowed to make political contributions at all.

Scum (#1,847)

That involvement of corporations in politics is a detriment to progressive goals is hardly reason enough to ban or curtail their involvement. Come on, at least pretend you are interested in some higher principle, that you want to protect the integrity of the political process or some guff.

scrooge (#2,697)

I don't have to pretend. It is a matter of principle: in a democracy, elections should be decided by the citizens thereof.

Granted, this is a complicated issue. But the principle that elections should not be decided by the deep pockets of the society is a good one. Remember the "rotten boroughs" of pre-Reform England? Is that what we want here (as if we don't already have it)?

barnhouse (#1,326)

Too late!

Juan Anon (#1,175)

Here's a link to the email addresses and phone numbers for Target's CEO and other executives — the email addresses all appear to follow the same format: firstname.lastname@target.com


Matt Baume (#3,974)

Here's a question worth asking Target: Will they donate money in support of marriage equality? It's very nice that their verbal support of gays is so "unwavering," but how about putting their money where their mouth is?

After all, if they're so concerned with the bottom line, they ought to know that equality is good for business. http://gayrights.change.org/blog/view/gay_marriage_is_good_for_business

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Jibreel Riley (#6,498)

after further review i've come to the conclusion that this is just political hacking for a cause… I'm trying to hardcore google these alleged ties and I'm just coming up empty drawing the conclusion they are just trying to scare the shit out of Target and Best Buy for giving money to anyone that is against gay marriage. Myself if gays want to marry go for it but these smear campaign against easy targets (no pun) only hurt the cause in the long run than help (see: The Mormons) and I fought Wal-Mart was the evil corporation

Abe Sauer (#148)

Wow, the same Jibreel Riley that stood on stage with Glenn Beck and allowed him to use you to create the idea that Beck isn't a racist?

I'll show you how to properly use Google if you;re having trouble.

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