This past summer, Target became embroiled in a fierce political controversy when it was revealed that the retail giant was using corporate funds to support anti-gay gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. Target gave $150,000 to a Republican political group that ran ads in support of Emmer’s candidacy.
Because Target had earned a reputation of being a progressive leader among its corporate competitors — for instance, the company extends domestic-partner benefits to gay and lesbian employees — the revelation of the company’s political giving came as a surprise and spurred calls for a boycott. In a few short days, Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel apologized in a letter to his employees:
While I firmly believe that a business climate conducive to growth is critical to our future, I realize our decision affected many of you in a way I did not anticipate, and for that I am genuinely sorry. [...]
Going forward, we will soon begin a strategic review and analysis of our decision-making process for financial contributions in the public policy arena. And 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.
But as new FEC records indicate that, despite Steinhafel’s apology, Target maintained its corporate contributions to right-wing, anti-gay candidates. After Steinhafel’s written apology, Target’s Political Action Committee “recorded $41,200 in federal election activity. Of that total, $31,200 went to anti-gay rights politicians or PACs supporting those candidates.”
One of the biggest recipients of Target’s cash was Republican lawmaker John Kline, who has voted against prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation, against treated anti-gay violence as a hate crime, and in favor of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The Human Rights Campaign has given him a zero rating in terms of support for GLBT issues.”
Target also supported Erik Paulsen, “a consistent opponent of gay marriage. He voted against repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and against workplace anti-discrimination laws based on sexual orientation.”
Target also gave support to a range of other anti-gay candidates, including Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL), Dave Camp (R-MI), Dave Reichert (D-WA), David Dreier (R-CA), Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), and Sen.-elect Rob Portman (R-OH). The Awl’s Abe Sauer reports, “We asked Target to explain these donations. They chose not to provide any answers.”
While Target’s PAC also gave small amounts to pro-gay politicians, including Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), it’s clear that even after the political controversy erupted Target’s behavior did not change.