Steinhafel draws heat for political donation

    Target Corp. chief executive officer Gregg Steinhafel, a Milwaukee native, is in serious damage control mode this week.

    Steinhafel authorized the Minneapolis-based retail company to donate $150,000 to MN Forward, a conservative political group that is running an ad supporting the Minnesota Republican gubernatorial campaign of Tom Emmer, who staunchly opposes gay marriage.

    The campaign donation drew immediate rebukes from the Minnesota GLBT – Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender – community.

    The controversy prompted Steinhafel to write a letter this week to his 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 Out & Equal Workplace Summit
    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.”

    The ability of Target and other corporations, as well as labor unions, to donate unlimited piles of cash to political campaigns was upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United ruling.

    With the opened flood gates, there will surely be more controversial donations this fall, according to Mike McCabe, executive of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan organization that tracks the impact of money in the state’s political arena.

    “With the Tea Party movement all the rage in our current moment, people forget that the original Boston Tea Party was not only a protest of British rule but also specifically an act of civil disobedience against the British East India Trading Company. Those tea partiers understood how unrestrained corporate power went hand in hand with political oppression. My, how that understanding has waned,” McCabe said.

    “By backing a candidate who strongly opposes gay rights, Target now finds itself scrambling to reassure gay customers and employees there is no bigotry behind the company’s political activities. In trying to smooth things over, Target’s top management is revealing something other corporate execs have been loathe to publicly acknowledge, namely that they sink money into elections strictly to enhance their bottom line. Or as Target’s CEO said in a letter to employees, ‘to advance policies aligned with our business objectives,'” McCabe said. “To hell with civil rights. To hell with social justice. To hell with what’s best for the whole country. To hell with any concern for the common good. Governing this nation is about nothing more than a single-minded pursuit of ‘business objectives.’ This is what will be reaped from what the Supreme Court sowed with its decision in the Citizens United case.”

    Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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