A huge controversy over Target’s recent $150,000 contribution to Republican candidate Tom Emmer for Governor of Minnesota has many customers considering boycotting Target stores. The very store they have grown to love so much.
Tom Emmer is no friend to the gay community. He has stated repeatedly that he is opposed to gay marriage and even civil unions.
What is so shocking about Target’s contribution is that it seems to be so contrary to Target’s history of strongly supporting the gay community. Best Buy (who also contributed to Emmer) has not taken nearly as much heat. I suspect there is a heightened sense of betrayal by Target which has always appeared so gay friendly.
So what drove their decision to support Tom Emmer? To be clear, Target didn’t donate any money directly to the Tom Emmer campaign. They contributed money to a bi-partisan group called MN Forward. It is MN Forward who has used these contributions in support of Tom Emmer’s candidacy. However, don’t be so naïve as to believe that the executives at Target didn’t know that their donation would go to support Mr. Emmer.
Let’s keep in context the mission of MN Forward. It has 3 very simple objectives (per their website): Tax reform, spending reform and education reform. Sound like laudable goals. I think the key point, from Target’s management perspective, is tax reform. Minnesota has the 3rd highest corporate tax rate of any state in America. Obviously, Target is interested in supporting a candidate which will reduce their tax burden and therefore increase their shareholder value. Companies don’t usually support a candidate because of their social agenda, but because they think it will help their bottom line. As usual, It is all about the money.
This is fairly clear in an internal email sent by Target CEO, Gregg Steinhafel to all employees:
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.
It is important to note that Target is already one of the leading large companies in providing Domestic Partner Benefits and supporting GLBT events and causes. So, it doesn’t appear this is an issue of Target being homophobic. However, it points to management’s poor judgment and a total lack of foresight for not taking into account the totality of the candidate they were supporting – not just the one or two issues that Target identified as important to their business.
Blame Target for poor judgment, but not being anti-gay.
Instead of a boycott, LGBT rights group Outfront Minnesota :
"Target should recognize that its support of Representative Emmer's campaign supports his toxic social agenda, significant parts of which involve targeting GLBT people, immigrants, and low-income workers for discrimination and marginalization. Target should be aware of the damage to the lives of GLBT Minnesotans that its spending in support of Representative Emmer will have. Because of this, OutFront Minnesota calls on Target to do the right thing and make amends for the damage it has done by taking back its donation to Minnesota Forward, or by donating an equal amount to a political committee or cause of its choice that works to combat the attacks, dehumanization and marginalization of GLBT people, immigrants, and low-income workers represented by Emmer and Minnesota Forward."
Considering that MN Forward has already spent the money Target contributed, they can’t get it back. While boycotting sounds like a good strategy -- is shopping at Walmart a better alternative? Does Walmart have a better track record in this regard? I don’t think so. Which retailer has a better track record than Target?
So what can or should Target do to prove that they continued to support the GLBT community?
What do you suggest they do to win back your trust?