Updates and thoughts on the Target mess

I’m way late to comment on the Target-Emmer contribution kerfuffle, but I’ll offer a few updates and a few thoughts.

Updates:

1.       The Star Tribune editorialized today that the effort to boycott Target is “counterproductive” because Target, in general, is a good corporate citizen and because if the boycott hurts the company it will hurt Target’s employees as well.

2.       The effort to link corporate contributions with Emmer’s issue positions has spread now from gay issues to immigrant issues. (Emmer has applauded the Arizona crackdown on illegal immigrants. He has called it a “wonderful first step.”  Although as, Bluestem Prairie notes, he has toned down his support for the Arizona law (now it’s just a “good step” and begun endorsing a “pathway to citizenship.”)

3.       My buddy Tom Hamburger reported this week (and I’m not sure I’ve seen this elsewhere) that Target is actually in back-room negotiations with representatives of the Human Rights Campaign over HRC’s demand that Target make up for its Emmer/Minnesota Forward donation with an equal donation to someone or something that supports gay rights.

4.       HRC’s leverage relates to Target’s ambitions to build new stores in San Francisco. MinnPost’s Jay Weiner wrote about the San Francisco angle, which is vital to understanding why this has been such a blow to Target.

Thoughts:

1.       It’s hard to believe that people as presumably smart at Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel and Target’s PR people could have put out such a stupid first reaction, which was to explain that the company’s support for Emmer had to do with his pro-business policies, not has anti-gay policies. Sorry, if Minnesota gets Emmer as governor, it gets all of his policies, at least within the branch of government that the chief executive controls.

2.       I was also way underwhelmed by the Steinhafel “apology” which read:  “I realize our decision affected many of you in a way I did not anticipate, and for that I am genuinely sorry.”

 In addition to the fact, which many have pointed out, that Steinhafel doesn’t seem to be expressing any regret over his original decision, only for the reaction it has induced (which in my book makes it a non-apology) focus on the key word “affected.” I don’t believe a key word in a high stakes PR gambit like this could have landed in there without substantial consideration, but the conclusion was to choose a word with several different possible meanings, rendering it meaningless. Just to name a few the “affect” in question could range from “making many of you mad at Target,” to “making it harder for many of you to get legally married.”

3.       The left is pretty excited about the possibility that this Target embarrassment will cause other corporations to shy away from taking advantage of the new opportunity for unlimited political contributions with corporate funds. The Citizens United ruling was an abomination on several levels, but I suspect that corporations who take heed from Target’s embarrassment will take greater pains to make their political contributions in ways that do not have to be disclosed. It’s my understanding that this is entirely possible if the companies are careful and pass the contributions through enough filters.

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Comments (29)

  1. Submitted by Paul Scott on 08/13/2010 - 10:43 am.

    I think you left out one other thought about this — what is the meaning and/or effect of the fact that the entire uproar over the donation has centered on Emmer’s position on gay rights? Or even Arizona, which while stupid, is not germaine to the future of our state.

    Hello…this is a race about tax policy, remember? For me, the idea of Target donating to support four more years of failed trickle down ideology and the bleeding of state government dry — the laughable idea that these policies are somehow good for business — is reprehensible.

    As a consumer, I don’t want my Target dollars going to support my daughter having 36 kids in her first grade classroom. If the left settles for some kind of donation to HRC they are dopes.

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/13/2010 - 10:54 am.

    BAsically, the Emmer positions on immigration and gay marriage are part of the GOP party line and straight from the party platform.
    So, TarJey is being criticized for giving money to a Republican — not unusual for a business.
    Kerfluffle is the word.

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/13/2010 - 11:20 am.

    My assumption is that Target’s action in funneling contributions to Emmer through the intermediary, MN Forward, was an attempt to keep them quiet. Minnesota’s disclosure laws worked against that, but in other states Target and other companies will find it easier to hide their political contributions from the public.

    What I have been wondering about is how McClung pitched this idea to Target. Did he assure them that there would be no publicity blow back? Did he even raise that possibility? I am sure McClung presented himself as a sophisticated political operator. I wonder at what point Target managers realized that he wasn’t?

  4. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/13/2010 - 11:51 am.

    Despite the best efforts of leftist mouthpieces, 90% of the people that shop target have no clue about it’s gay problem.

    How do I know?

    Sales figures and stock prices remain wholly unaffected.

    Further, as Mitch Berg noted a couple of days ago (http://www.shotinthedark.info/wp/?p=12552), if the purpose of the leftist media’s Astro-turf outrage was to have the vaunted “chilling effect” on corporate campaign giving, it’s a FAIL.

    Personally, I couldn’t give a rip if Target takes a hit or not; I don’t regularly shop there, and Target’s political giving has overwhelmingly benefitted the left anyway.

    But there is a lesson to be learned.

    When a business drinks the PC kool-aid this sort of thing comes with the territory. The minute Target decided to accomodate the sand-is-food crew as a corporate policy, they were owned…it’s that whole lie down with swine thing.

  5. Submitted by Eric Schubert on 08/13/2010 - 11:55 am.

    I doubt the Target PR team had much of a say in this. Any sane PR person would have said “don’t touch this” because it goes in total opposition of the “we are the world” brand Target worked to build and portrays through their advertising and community relations.

    My sense it was a decision made in isolation by a tone deaf government relations person, combined with a tone deaf MN Forward person. They probably saw it as a donation that they knew the Target CEO would dig because it fits with his personal political bent. The Target CEO might be really good at something, but it’s not in reading public perception.

    Interestingly, Tom Horner provided years of high-quality PR counsel to Target. You’d think a company or pro-business organization that purportedly wants innovation in Minnesota and a leader who understands business would support him.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 08/13/2010 - 01:46 pm.

    Don’t know a thing about Target’s history of contributions, political or otherwise, but Mr. Swift’s assertion about the general public being unaware (or uncaring) seems on the mark if, in fact, sales and stock price remain unaffected.

    Making no claims to omnivorous and constant reading of political websites, so willing to be corrected, I also think his conclusion about the “chilling effect” of outrage on the part of some (myself included) is correct – it’s had no noticeable effect on corporate campaign contributions. Most companies/PR people/CEOs don’t care, or there’s enough residual hostility to gays outside of Mr. Steinhafel’s office that sputtering on the part of a few nattering nabobs who don’t even worship at the corporate altar isn’t going to change corporate outlooks.

    We live in an era of increasing corporate political influence – not quite corporate governance yet, but perhaps in another generation – so we might as well get used to increasingly-successful corporate influence on political campaigns, and on that influence being more overt than it has been in the past. Corporate money has pulled strings behind the scenes for a very long time, but now that they’re considered “persons” in the First Amendment sense, there’s very little reason for companies to pull punches during election season. If anything at all comes about as a result of some public irritation with Target’s donation, I think it will be along the lines that Eric suggested – companies will simply make more and better efforts to conceal donations through avenues convoluted enough that it’ll be nearly impossible to trace them. It’s one of the things corporate lawyers are hired to accomplish.

    This, of course, makes all the rhetoric about whether a candidate is sufficiently “pro-business” silly. In a society as fervently capitalist as ours, and with corporations increasingly funding the election agenda, no one who’s genuinely “anti-business” even runs for office, much less gets elected.

    Meanwhile, I hope someone will enlighten me about what the phrase “…sand is food crew…” means. A generation ago, we did have Republicans, primarily President Reagan, suggesting that ketchup was a vegetable, but surely, criticism of the previous generation of “conservatives” is not what Mr. Swift had in mind.

  7. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/13/2010 - 01:47 pm.

    The thought does occur to me to ask what was Target actually buying? A lot of money has gone to MN Forward and what are the tangible results? A fairly unexceptional TV commercial, and some campaign lit sent into Democratic districts where, in the grand tradition of all campaign lit, it will be immediately discarded. Unread.

    Wasn’t it really access that Target was buying here? Paying for favors received in the past, and favors expected in the future. MN Forward isn’t composed of brilliant advertising types. It’s run by political insiders who have spent a few years in government jobs, and now need or at least want to make some serious dollars.

    MN Forward reminds me of those books of speeches politicians used to put out. Nobody really read the books, just as nobody is rally going to pay much attention to MN Forward’s commercials or campaign lit. Those seeking influence bought the books, often in bulk, as a legal way of paying money to politicians. A form of money laundering if you will.

  8. Submitted by Rich Crose on 08/13/2010 - 02:37 pm.

    This shows the fallacy of the Supreme Court decision that a corporation should have the same rights as a person.

    A corporation can never be a person until it can tell the difference between a gay person, a black person, a liberal, a conservative…

    To a corporation, people are an illogical, stupid conveyance system for a wallet.

  9. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/13/2010 - 02:49 pm.

    Dani says: #4, Target’s stock price has declined a significant 7.54% since May 14th.”

    Great. How about between the day the gay-rage started and today….seriously, you can do better.

    Dani continues: “While Target’s same-store sales in July were up 2.0% over last year, sales were depressed for all retailers as we were still in the worst depths of the recession.”

    So Target’s sales have outperformed the market…gay-rage backlash!

    Dani informs: “There are more than 52,000 members and counting at the “Boycott Target” Facebook page.”

    How many of those 52k Facebookers ever shopped at Target before the gay-rage? Given the sales numbers *you provided*, either that 52k is so tiny a percentage of shoppers as to be un-noticable or most of them are cheating.

    Dani assures: “Target is being held accountable for their actions by consumers and investors alike.”

    Sure it is.

  10. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/13/2010 - 05:05 pm.

    I wouldn’t expect Target’s support for Tom Emmer would have much immediate effect on it’s stock price. In the short term, retail stock prices are influenced a lot by Same Store Sales numbers, and the news about Emmer came out at the end of the month. If analysts investors have given the matter any thought at all, they probably think this thing will blow over, and they could be right.

    I do think Target has damaged it’s brand to some degree. It had positioned itself as the hip and trendy discount retailer, images hardly consistent with Tom Emmer or Mark Dayton. It was like Walmart except it was nice. For myself, I am not boycotting Target as such. I bought some stuff the other day. But my own mindset toward Target has changed, perhaps permanently. I see it as a Republican company, and I am most emphatically not a Republican. I don’t feel as welcome there as I once did. In the end that shift of attitude by me and perhaps others, might do far more damage than a formal boycott.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/13/2010 - 10:17 pm.

    Yes, this was a Republican decision. The explanation that this was considered a good business decision never was very convincing. It’s not there is some independent economic analysis out there that pegs the Republicans as better for business than the Democrats. The so called ratings these business groups contrive are ideological, not real economic analysis. They start with some premise like low taxes are better for business and then proceed to collect data. I’m not worried about Targets image, that’s their problem. Like Hiram, my view has changed, while I’m not boycotting Target, I surprised myself the other day when I realized I was going to Pet Smart instead of Target deliberately. I’ll be double checking Costco as well to see if I can get stuff there.

    My problem with this whole thing is the executive privilege that lets CEOs give other peoples money to political causes of their choice. It bugs me that if I buy something at Target, a portion of my dollar may be used in an attempt to restrict someone’s civil rights and render millions of fellow Americans second class citizens. I don’t delude myself that corporate profits are always spent to my liking, but this bugs me.

  12. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/14/2010 - 07:26 am.

    My own opinion was that Target’s stated rationale for supporting Emmer, that he would be good for Target’s business, was politically and economically naive. Emmer favors a regressive tax structure which would shift dollars from people who buy at Target to people who don’t. But as has become apparent, the CEO of Target didn’t get where he is today because of his knowledge of either economics, or politics.

  13. Submitted by John E Iacono on 08/14/2010 - 09:40 am.

    It seems to me typical of the far left that they attempt to shout down or in other ways impose silence on those of different mind from themselves (present company notably excepted).

    I have encountered this time and time again. It seems almost always to be “my way or the highway” with those who insist so strongly on THEIR right of free speech, even if it means breaking windows and looting their neighbors.

    So I find the Target outcry typical left behavior.

    Though I seldom shop at Target (or anywhere else anymore) I will make a point to go there to register my protest of this most unAmerican effort.

  14. Submitted by Bruce Pomerantz on 08/14/2010 - 11:27 am.

    Steinhafel’s targeted donation offended me precisely because of the reasons he gave in his explanation to employees. (Interestingly, no one has noted that the communication was to the employees, not to upset retail shoppers, who outnumber employees.) It was “business, not personal.”

    For Steinhafel (let’s forget the fiction that “Target” did anything. Target does not exist–people exist), the bottom line is everything and low taxes helps the bottom line. I wrote Steinhafel that if he likes low taxes, he should move to Alaska, South Dakota, Florida, Nevada, Texas, states without any income taxes.

    However, Target has prospered because of an educated work force and the ability to recruit people to live here in large part because of the quality of life, including social consciousness for those less fortunate. That is why I moved here.

    Assisting the less fortunate, along with other basic state government services such as providing the foundations for good health education and safety, requires money. The only way state and local governments can pay for providing those services is through collecting taxes from its residents.

    If Target wants to cut its throat, then please do so in some other state. Me? I’m willing to pay for a good quality of life through taxes.

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/14/2010 - 12:02 pm.

    //It seems to me typical of the far left that they attempt to shout down or in other ways impose silence on those of different mind from themselves (present company notably excepted).

    John please, all freedoms come with responsibilities and consequences. No one is shutting down anyone’s speech, they are simply exercising they’re right speak as well. You can say what you want, but I’m entitled to respond. This idea that one is entitled to say anything they want and not be held accountable, or have to deal with a response from anyone is classic white male privilege in full display.

    The idea that the predilection towards censorship is a liberal quality is simply daft. Conservatives have spent the last 40 years trying to shut down speech you disagree with attempts to outlaw everything from adult material to political protest and speech. A catalog of these attempts is readily available.

  16. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/14/2010 - 02:17 pm.

    “It seems to me typical of the far left that they attempt to shout down or in other ways impose silence on those of different mind from themselves (present company notably excepted).”

    That’s one reason, and a very good reason why I don’t boycott or use other methods of coercion against those who disagree with me. And the fact is lots of good Democrats, and more than a few good Republicans work at Target had nothing to with Target management’s foolish decision. And I do continue to shop at Target.

    Still, Target has gone out of it’s way to announce that it is a Republican company. How can that not affect me? How can I ignore the concern I have that the dollars I spend end up in the pockets of Tom Emmer and his Republican cronies?

    The Supreme Court has told us effectively that Target is a person just like me. The justices are very wise, but I have a hard time accepting their conclusion here. I am reminded of Shylock’s great soliloquy. A corporation doesn’t have eye, hands, organs dimensions, senses, affections (except for oddball right wing politicians evidently, and it it does bleed. It doesn’t get upset when you are rude to it. If it gets shouted down on occasion, I just can’t feel much sympathy for it.

  17. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/14/2010 - 07:43 pm.

    Hiram–
    The test is: how do you put a corporation in jail? You can fine it, but while you can jail its officers, you can’t jail a corporation as an entity.

  18. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/14/2010 - 09:40 pm.

    The idea that corporations are entitled to the same rights as individuals simply renders the whole notion of citizenship incoherent. The logic so tortured it’s unbelievable.

  19. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/14/2010 - 10:04 pm.

    I don’t think target has committed a crime but corporations can and they can be convicted of them. For an example of what can happen to a business entity convicted of a crime, check out what happened to Arthur Andersen.

  20. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/15/2010 - 09:37 am.

    Hiram–
    I was not saying that Target had committed a crime — clearly it had not.
    I was pointing out the essential difference between corporations and individual persons.
    Arthur Andersen may have received some sort of analogy to capital punishment, since the corporation no longer exists.
    I don’t recall whether any of the officers or stock holders served jail sentences, but if they did, they did so as individuals.
    The corporation itself was not incarcerated.

  21. Submitted by John E Iacono on 08/15/2010 - 12:07 pm.

    I suppose conservatives should “get with it” and boycott any organization that contributed to Move On.org, or Acorn, or contributes to a union PAC that puts out negative ads against Republicans, or to filmmakers that campaign for leftist causes, or to the democratic party.

    Somehow, that does not seem like conservatives, unlike what their left-leaning brethren love to do.

  22. Submitted by JA Laughlin on 08/15/2010 - 07:47 pm.

    @#24
    “I suppose conservatives should ‘get with it’ and boycott any organization that contributed to Move On.org, or Acorn, or contributes to a union PAC that puts out negative ads against Republicans, or to filmmakers that campaign for leftist causes, or to the democratic party.”

    “Somehow, that does not seem like conservatives, unlike what their left-leaning brethren love to do.”
    ____________

    Actually, Mr. Iacono, it does seem like something that conservatives also do:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/13/AR2006031301658.html?referrer=emailarticlepg
    (Boycott of Ford by 19 conservative groups for decision by Ford to resume advertising in gay-themed publications)

    and

    http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=12971
    (Newsday article about Christian right “consumer crusades” against Sears, Ford, Disney, Kraft and Reader’s Digest, among others)

    and

    http://conservativesolidarityboycottmovem.blogspot.com/
    (the name and subheading on their website kind of speaks for itself, I guess:

    “Conservative Solidarity Boycott Movement–
    Targeting those who support the Liberal agenda for boycott”
    ___________

    There are probably more examples, but these are ones I found with a 60 second Google search. I certainly don’t think that liberals have cornered the market on using boycotts to voice their displeasure with actions of companies or organizations

  23. Submitted by John E Iacono on 08/16/2010 - 10:53 am.

    JA Laughlin:

    You have a point.

    I was thinking of those who attempt to stifle political speech by boycotting those who support their political enemies.

  24. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/17/2010 - 08:41 am.

    //”Somehow, that does not seem like conservatives, unlike what their left-leaning brethren love to do.”

    No, conservatives are too busy picketing funerals and health care clinics to bother with boycotts.

  25. Submitted by Craig Westover on 08/17/2010 - 09:39 pm.

    It bears repeating — you can pass all the campaign finance laws you want, but money will continue to flow into campaigns on both sides. The only way to keep the money out of politics is to limit the power of government. As long as purchasing a member of congress (or even a president) is a better investment than capital equipment or R&D, companies large and small will find ways to make those investments. When a single law can make or cost a company hundreds of millions of dollars arbitrarily and virtually over night, why wouldn’t it invest in a member of congress? Take away government power, take away what it has to sell, and you’ll solve an awful lot of problems.

  26. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/18/2010 - 08:53 am.

    //The only way to keep the money out of politics is to limit the power of government.

    This is illogical. As long as “money” is allowed to flow into campaigns the power limits your proposing will be impossible to enact. The whole point of flowing money into campaigns is to buy power, not limit it. These business guys aren’t donating money in order to limit government power, their doing to control government power. The point isn’t government will stop acting, the point is they want to act on their behalf instead of someone else’s.

    I think think the only way we can effectively balance the distortion of corporate money is to have publicly financed elections, and re-implement equal time rules across the board. Someday this daft notion of corporations having the same rights as individuals will collapse but in the meantime we have to live this crap.

    //Take away government power, take away what it has to sell, and you’ll solve an awful lot of problems.

    We government for a reason, you want a powerless government try living in Somalia.

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