The Anti-Gay Donations That Target Apologized For? They Never Stopped

by Abe Sauer

The December 4th Star Tribune article begins, “It isn’t easy being CEO of a public company.” The business section’s ode to Minneapolis-based Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel, which describes the executive as “always classy,” was a public display of affection Minnesotans stereotypically avoid.

The author makes little mention of the recent revelations of gay-friendly Target’s long-standing support for many of the most openly anti-gay politicians. Of these donations, the Star Trib says only, “The worst one could say about this incident is that Steinhafel may have been naive. But he admitted his mistake and reaffirmed the company’s long-standing support for gay rights.”

According to documents filed with the FEC in October 2010, Target continued donating to a bevy of anti-gay politicians even after Steinhafel apologized and committed to reforming the review process for future political donations. These donations even included some of the same anti-gay politicians the company had already been criticized for supporting.

On Aug 5, 2010, facing an outbreak of bad publicity over reports of Target’s political giving both in the 2010 election and beyond, Chairman, President and CEO Gregg Steinhafel released a statement. In it, he apologized for how the company’s decision had affected many “in a way I did not anticipate.” Steinhafel wrote that “… later this fall, Target will take a leadership role in bringing together a group of companies and partner organizations for a dialogue focused on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, including GLBT issues.” It being late fall, we reached out to check in on Target’s prioress.

“As previously indicated, we’re taking a thoughtful and planful approach to this issue. Target is engaged in ongoing dialogue, both internally and externally, with a variety of leaders and expects to have more to share soon regarding our plans.” That’s the extent of the details a Target spokesperson would give us on Target’s “leadership role.”

Target did confirm that “consistent with past practices” it will be a sponsor for 2011’s Twin Cities Pride. Maybe not so consistent with past practices will be the reception the retailer gets from participants. Twin Cities Pride confirmed discussions with Target as a sponsor, though donation amounts have not yet been discussed. A Pride spokesperson added that the event organizers are “carefully considering the input we’ve received from the community and we’re working with Target to figure out how to best move forward in a way that is mutually beneficial for all parties involved.”

Twin Cities Pride may receive more input following revelations about Target’s political giving after the August 5 letter from Steinhafel. In that apology, the CEO stated, “Going forward, we will soon begin a strategic review and analysis of our decision- making process for financial contributions in the public policy arena.”

The updated Federal Election Commission database coughed up filings that Target went “forward” by continuing to make significant political donations, the majority of which went to anti-gay equality politicians.

After Steinhafel’s August 5 letter, Target’s Political Action Committee, helmed by the former right hand of Senator Thune, Matt Zabel, recorded $41,200 in federal election activity. Of that total, $31,200 went to anti-gay rights politicians or PACs supporting those candidates.

Supporters of gay equality did get some money. In September, Target PAC gave $1,000 to Chuck Schumer. It also sent a whole $500 to Keith Ellison, the Minnesota Congressman that anti-gay leader Bradley Dean accuses of supporting LGBT rights as a way to bring Sharia law to America.

But donations such as $1,000 to Kelly Ayotte (reported on September 22), who opposes both gay marriage and same sex adoption, are far more the norm.

That same day, there is a record of a donation by Target PAC to Spencer Bachus, who voted to ban same-sex adoption. Michigan’s David Camp, who, in addition to supporting a Constitutional Amendment banning same-sex marriage, voted against protecting gays from job discrimination based on sexual orientation, also reported money. Through October, Target PAC thousands of dollars in donations were recorded to Michael Crapo and Dave Reichert, both supporters of anti-gay Constitutional amendments, and Rob Portman, a supporter of banning gays from adopting. Portman’s position on other gay rights won’t surprise. On October 4, a donation was reported: $2,000 to David Dreier, whose position on gay rights is quite a bit of theatre.

After the Steinhafel statement, Target PAC’s money also flowed to other PACs, including $8,500 to Every Republican is Crucial PAC, Freedom and Security PAC and the Majority Committee PAC, all three supporters of both Michele Bachmann and Roy Blunt.

Most surprising though are Target’s post-apology donations to John Kline and Erik Paulsen, two vehement anti-gay equality candidates. Part of the July outrage over Target’s political giving included these same two candidates.

On September 22, Target PAC recorded a donation to Erik Paulsen. Paulsen, a former Target employee and a favorite of Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, recently voted against the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal. He has also come out against classifying anti-gay attacks as hate crimes. His position on gay marriage is as expected.

Paulsen’s opponent, Jim Meffert, told Minnesota Public Radio, “I support full marriage equality for all couples.” Meffert lost in a landslide.

Also on September 22 comes word of a maximum donation — $5,000 — to Kline. Kline’s voting record is more than the run of the mill “protect marriage” stuff. Kline’s gay-hostilities include voting against prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation and against treating anti-gay attacks as hate crimes.

Just one year ago, Kline went beyond his legislative duty and added his name as a plaintiff to a lawsuit filed against the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics demanding a voter referendum on banning gay marriage. Signatories appearing with Kline included John Boehner, Eric Cantor, John Boozman, and Michele Bachmann. The suit was submitted by Pat Robertson.

In fact, Target was so eager to help Kline that this $5,000 maximum donation was in addition to the $2,500 Target gave to Kline’s primary campaign — a primary race in which the incumbent candidate had already amassed a $500,000 war chest and ran basically unchallenged.

We asked Target to explain these donations. They chose not to provide any answers. But not surprisingly, the retailer did not bring up its Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index rating. That’s probably because the 2011 Index notes that Target has been “penalized under Criterion 6 for a large-scale public blemish to their recent records, namely, for failing to take any corrective action in response to significant community concerns.”

Poor Gregg Steinhafel. Despite all the suffering, the Star Trib describes, he ranks only 126th in executive compensation. How, really, can a man support a family on $8 million anymore? It’s a lucky thing for him he has citizens like Bill George at the Trib sticking up for his (and his hand-picked executive team’s) management of the Target brand. It’s a glowing piece that even the mildly suspicious might dismiss as holiday season circular quid pro quo. But it’s worse than that.

The author, Bill George, is also a Harvard Business School professor and, as he
notes mid-puff piece, in addition to his time as a board member of Exxon Mobil and Goldman Sachs, he served on Target’s Board of Directors from 1993 to 2005.

His Trib bio also notes he is the author of 7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis. That book just happens to count Gregg Steinhafel as one of its profiled “leaders.”

Update: Kelly Ayote’s opposition of gay marriage and adoption in New Hampshire did not directly result in her resignation, but to run for Senate.

Abe Sauer is working on a book about North Dakota. Contact him at abesauer [at]