Feature

Corporate ‘speech’: Target invites a backlash

Target Corp. gave money to a political group that backs a candidate who supports a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Target Corp. suddenly has “a bull’s-eye on its back,” said Brody Mullins and Ann Zimmerman in The Wall Street Journal. Taking advantage of a controversial Supreme Court ruling handed down in January, which eliminated limits on corporate political contributions, the big-box retailer donated $150,000 to a pro-business political group, Minnesota Forward. Among the candidates supported by the group is Minnesota GOP gubernatorial hopeful Tom Emmer, a budget-cutting conservative who also happens to support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in every state. In response, hundreds of gay-rights supporters demonstrated outside Target stores around the nation, while a petition threatening a boycott was signed by more than 240,000 people. Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel subsequently apologized for the group’s support of Emmer, telling gay customers and employees, “We did not mean to disappoint you.” 

Disappointing is a mild word for it, said Sara Haji in TheNation.com. Emmer’s strident opposition to gay marriage is bad enough; he also “supports and donates to a Christian rock band called You Can Run But You Cannot Hide, known widely for its kill-the-gays rhetoric.” In one radio broadcast, band leader Bradlee Dean said Muslims appear “more moral” than American Christians because they believe in executing homosexuals. Until this imbroglio, Target had always “seemed gay-friendly and sort of pro-artsy,” said Michael Musto in The Village Voice Online. “So this came as a complete shock.” Does this mean we have to start analyzing “the campaign contributions of every store we might go to?”

You just might, said Carey Alexander in Consumerist.com. Thanks to the Supreme Court, corporations can now use their treasuries to take stands on issues like gay marriage, abortion, taxes, and immigration. Inevitably, that means “your individual economic purchasing decisions will soon make an even clearer social and political statement than they already do.” Given the backlash that hit Target, “you can bet that every CEO with a political agenda is watching to see what happens next.” Most CEOs, though, have little interest in political agendas, said James Taranto in The Wall Street Journal Online. Their “purpose is to make a profit, not to advance a principle or to stir up controversy.” This whole episode shows why fears of corporate political contributions are overblown. After all, a band of scrappy consumers has brought a $38 billion corporation to its knees, “merely by taking offense.”

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