MoveOn.org has called for a national boycott of Target because the company contributed $150,000 to an anti-gay republican gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota. However, AT&T has gotten a pass even though that company contributed $17,000 to tea party supporting congressional candidate Michele Bachmann.
What's a consumer to do? It's one thing to say you're boycotting Target - you can still find just about everything they sell elsewhere. But, if you boycott Target, why wouldn't you boycott AT&T and give up your iPhone?
The following is a post I wrote for BlogHer on the issue of boycotting a company because of its political contributions.
On Sunday, I spent over $90 at Target buying some paper products, groceries, refill pads for my Swiffer Wetjet, and a package of Kong Air Dong mini tennis balls for my dog. Nothing I bought was exclusive to Target except for a bag of Archer Farms Key Lime Pie naturally flavored trail mix. I could have ended up with all the other items by stopping at Walgreens, Petco and Lunds grocery store.
But, I didn't. I made a deliberate decision to shop at Target, despite a move to boycott the company because it made a $150,000 political contribution to MN Forward -- a new "pro-work" organization that used the funds to create a political commercial supporting Tom Emmer. Emmer is the Minnesota Republican Gubernotorial candidate who may be pro-business, but who also supports anti-gay legislation. In 2007, he authored a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage and civil unions.
As someone who lives and works in Minnesota, Mr. Emmer will not be getting my vote. And, Target will not be getting my boycott. My logic (such as it is) for not boycotting Target is similar to the logic I use for opposing the death penalty. Putting the morality of the death penalty aside, as it's currently executed, the death penalty is inconsistent, inherently flawed, and not fair. So, even if morally I didn't oppose it, the inconsistent nature of how the death penalty is doled out, would force me to oppose it.
I think about boycotting Target in a similar way. Boycotting is serious business, and if I am going to use boycotting as a method to show my displeasure over a company's political contributions, than I better be willing to investigate the political contributions of all the companies I do business with. Why Target and not AT&T? Okay, I'm not an AT&T customer, but if I were, would I really be ready to hand in my iPhone, because AT&T donated $17,000 to Michelle Bachmann's campaign?
What about the owners of my local wine and cheese shop? Are they politically aligned to my way of thinking or are they tea sipping Republicans? I have no idea, and unless I am now prepared to vet every business, I see no reason to treat Target differently.
Besides, when my mother refused to buy a Jane Fonda exercise tape back in the 80's because she disliked Fonda's politics,at the time I argued that one had nothing to do with the other. I really don't want my mom now saying, "I told you so."
There is the Facebook page, Boycott Target Until They Cease Funding Anti-Gay Politics. As of today, it has nearly 70,000 fans. And, if other companies are thinking 'thank goodness Target is taking the heat on this and not us,' they shouldn't get too comfortable. From that Facebook wall,
Lee Phile Be sure to cancel ATT service and dispose of your iPhones as ATT donates to Michele Bachman, MN CD6.... One of the most anti-gay candidates in congress. Down with ATT/Apple. Steve Mills Another company to be on the look out for: Chick-fil-A. They are supporting Strong Marriages Florida, an organization that is strongly opposed to gay marriage. Chick-fil-A even has signage outside their restaurants encouraging couples, straight couples, to do a check-up on their relationship. I refuse to give my mon...ey to them going forward. Please share this info with others.
Ed McCarthy Those companies who also contributed are:
Red Wing Shoes- maker of work shoes, boots as well as motorcycle boots since 1905
Best Buys- Retail Electronics
Pent Air Inc- Water Pumps, Pump supplies, Pool, HVAC
Hubbard Broadcasting- TV and Radio stations in MN, Wisc, NY and NM.
As far as the Target boycott goes, MoveOn.org says last week about 250,000 signed their boycott petition. However, signing a petition and actually boycotting are two different things. I would sign a petition condemning Target's financial contribution because I do want Target to know that I am very unhappy with them.
While fans of the Boycott Target Facebook Page share how they are no longer going to shop at Target, Matt Parker wrote this on the wall:
Matt Parker Best way to hit mega-corporations is to go directly after shareholders. Sales are important, but stock price is second to none.
It seems that Parker's predictions are coming true. The L.A. Times is reporting that their investors are not happy with Target's behavior. In fact, three of their major institutional investors have sent word that they expect Target to revamp the process they use to make political contributions.
"Target should have carefully considered the implications that direct political contributions can have toward shareholder value," said Ola Fadahunsi, spokesman for New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the pension fund's sole trustee. "It's troubling to think that they can fund controversial candidates without properly assessing the risks and rewards involved."
When the news broke that Target was funding the anti-gay Emmer, many were shocked. Target has worked hard to build their reputation of being a good corporate citizen. When Target tried to explain why they put their money behind Emmer, Target CEO Gregg Steinhofer said that they were supporting MN Forward's candidates because they were pro-business.
In other words, Steinhofer was putting Target's reputation on the line because the Republican Emmer appears to be more pro-business than the DFL candidate, Mark Dayton. Now, MN Forward is an organization that is endorsing pro-business candidates from both parties.
In researching this story, I was surprised to see my good friend, State Senator Terri Bonoff is also the recipient of MN Forward support. They sent flyers to all constituents in her district praising her pro-business legislation. She did decline to be interviewed for this post saying she had already made a public statement about the issue.
Bonoff, of Minnetonka, issued a masterful response Friday that opted for "something else." She'll take the corporate praise, but clearly isn't keen on the legal change that made it possible.[...]I have always worked hard to maintain a constructive relationship with the business community that puts the needs of our state first. I’m also proud to have a voting record that reflects my commitment to equal rights for the gay and lesbian community, opportunity for working families, and the importance of a high-quality education," Bonoff said. “I am, however, concerned about the effect of the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case, which opened the door to direct corporate spending in political campaigns.
About a week after the news broke, Target CEO Steinhofer apologized, sort of. He didn't apologize for making a bad decision. He didn't apologize for not vetting a candidate to see if his human right stance might be offensive. He didn't apologize for supporting a candidate based on a single issue. And, as Awakened Aesthetic blogged, he didn't apologize to consumers.
There were also no reparations made for the $150,000.00 already donated to anti-gay rights candidate Tom Emmer. After Target sat down to discuss corrective measures with the Human Rights Campaign – and even wrote up a few tentative agreements – they backed out. (In response, HRC will donate $150,000.00 of its own money to a pro-equality candidate in Minnesota. Want to help? Donate to the HRC by clicking here.)
So let’s keep this boycott going.
When the Supreme Court made its controversial ruling in the Citizens United case last January, many fretted about the risks. However, it is comforting to see how consumers have responded to Target's foray into political contributions. What Target and other businesses are finding out is that consumers are paying attention.
If nothing else, Target's recent experience with customer blowback should serve as a cautionary tale to other corporations that mixing business and politics can be harmful to the bottom line.