08/10/2011 03:59 pm ET Updated Oct 10, 2011

New Balance Walks Back Chairman's Pro-Romney Contribution Over Anti-Gay Marriage Pledge

WASHINGTON -- The shoe company New Balance has issued a statement distancing itself from a controversy over a $500,000 contribution from the company's chairman, Jim Davis, to a pro-Mitt Romney Super PAC, Restore Our Future.

The statement appeared on Wednesday afternoon on the New Balance website:

A letter from our CEO:

Dear New Balance associates, customers and consumers:

Earlier this year, a private donation was made by our Chairman to a political action committee that is affiliated with Mitt Romney. First, let me be clear that this was a private donation and not a contribution from New Balance. We encourage civic engagement at all levels and will always respect the right of any of our associates to engage in the political process as they see fit. We typically do not comment on private political donations; however, this situation is different.

Mr. Romney recently signed a pledge that challenges same sex marriage and that has offended many including those in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. Mr. Romney's position on this issue is not reflective of Jim Davis', my or New Balance's position and support of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered community. As a company, New Balance embraces the differences in all people and we work tirelessly to create and sustain an environment where everyone - our associates, consumers, customers and guests - are treated with dignity and respect.


Rob DeMartini

The statement comes after the website Change.org ran a petition demanding to know whether New Balance stood behind the contribution made by the company's chairman. The Change.org petition received 2,645 signatures before New Balance issued its statement.

This isn't the first time that a company has faced controversy from gay rights supporters over contributions to conservative politicians and causes.

The big-box store Target faced a similar problem after it was revealed that the company had given $150,000 to Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. Emmer, who ultimately lost his bid to Democrat Mark Dayton, was firmly opposed to gay marriage. Target's CEO ultimately had to apologize after an outcry over the contribution, followed by a subsequent boycott of the company. CEO Gregg Steinhafel also stated that the company would increase its charitable giving to pro-gay rights organizations. The contribution left lingering bad feelings and some are still boycotting the company.

A similar problem arose from the millions of dollars in contributions that Texas billionaire Robert Rowling and his company TRT Holdings, which owns Gold's Gym, gave to the Karl Rove-linked conservative Super PAC, American Crossroads. Those donations resulted in a revolt by some Gold's Gym franchises. Four San Francisco-based gyms left the franchise over the group's support for anti-gay marriage politicians. Gold's Gym eventually distanced itself from TRT and Rowling's contributions.