A campaign contribution to a well-known anti-gay politician in Minnesota has become a rather large public relations nightmare for Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel--and the store now faces boycotts and backlash from the gay community.
Target's Chief Executive Steinhafel said gay employees have been concerned about the money helping state Rep. Tom Emmer, who opposes gay marriage. Target gave $150,000 to MN Forward, a group staffed by former insiders from outgoing Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's administration. MN Forward is running TV ads supporting Emmer.
The Associated Press reports that Emmer is a fiery conservative who lauds Arizona's strict approach to illegal immigration, once advocated chemical castration for sex offenders and wants to lower taxes. His profile contrasts with Target's moderate image in Minnesota, where the company is known for donating to public school programs, food pantries and the annual Twin Cities Gay Pride Festival.
Following the money trail, the Minnesota Independent has also linked Emmer to a Minnesota Christian "punk-rock ministry" that supports the killing of gays and lesbians.
Learning that Target would lend financial support to someone like Emmer angered many LGBT shoppers and gay rights supporters. The Human Rights Campaign, which previously gave Target a 100 percent approval rating for their treatment of LGBT employees, issued this statement Monday:
"Target has worked hard to create a fair and equitable workplace for its LGBT employees, and should be proud of its leadership in this area. It is for this reason that HRC is very disappointed in Target's significant monetary contribution to Minnesota Forward, a group supporting the most clearly anti-LGBT candidate for Governor in Minnesota. We have reached out to Target to express our concern over this contribution. While political contributions to support candidates are not a factor in HRC Foundation's Corporate Equality Index, HRC finds it puzzling that Target would take great steps to support LGBT inclusiveness while simultaneously helping a candidate who shamelessly rejects equality for LGBT Minnesotans."
In an email to Target staff, Steinhafel responded to the criticism.
"We rarely endorse all advocated positions of the organizations or candidates we support, and we do not have a political or social agenda," Steinhafel wrote. "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...Let me be very clear, Target's support of the GLBT community is unwavering, and inclusiveness remains a core value of our company." (Read Steinhafel's full response here.)
Meanwhile, some gay rights advocates are considering a boycott of Target over the ordeal. In Chicago, openly-gay state Rep. Greg Harris, who celebrated a Target opening in his district last week, told ChicagoPride.com he hopes Target will rethink their support of Emmer.
"Companies like Target need to understand that they can't have it both ways when it comes to issues of our basic rights, and that the facts will eventually come out. I hope that they will rethink this contribution and find a way to make it right," Harris said.
A Facebook group dedicated to boycotting Target has also gained momentum.
Money from Target's top executives has gone mainly to Republicans. Former Chief Executive Officer Robert Ulrich, who retired last year, gave $617,000 during his time as Target's leader, most of it to the state GOP. Current Chief Executive Gregg Steinhafel has donated about $25,000, almost exclusively to Republican candidates and causes, including at least $1,000 to Michele Bachmann's "Victory Committee."
Check out more of Steinhafel's campaign contributions here.