43 Responses

  1. I suppose government has long been in bed with corporations, and the idea of genuine “free market” a little flimsy, but the reality of corporate donations remains disturbing. Government taken hostage by corporations–I think the stuff of a politcal thriller there.

  2. I’m all in favor of limiting or banning money from corporations, but then let’s do it with all special interests, including unions. That will happen the day I pilot a spacecraft to the moon.

  3. Wow, perfect timing on this piece. I’m in the market for a new granite counter this week, and hadn’t realized that Cold Spring Granite was in the political funding of gay bashing business. That could account for a decent chunk of the $35k they donated.

    Maybe I should invite them over to quote out the job while they can explain themselves?

  4. Putting aside for a moment the substantive debate about whether unions and corporations should be treated equally under campaign finance laws, consider the PR question.

    Corporations, particular those in retail, have a LOT more PR exposure than unions.

    Reason: It’s very easy for Minnesotans who oppose Emmer to punish pro-Emmer stores like Best Buy, Holiday and Target. Just shop down the road.

    At the same time, it’s very difficult for Emmeristas to punish anti-Emmer unions, because their membership is a) much less visible to consumers, b) much less likely to found in retail settings, and c) less centralized in particular stores.

    Therefore, the PR liability associated with politicking is relatively small for unions, but it is very large for corporations.

  5. I suspect the actual solution to the problem will be to get rid of transparency, so the corporations can donate in secret.

    In my old union: A. No dues money was used to support candidates; B. All willing candidates were screened by a bi- or tri- partisan committee; C. The support was announced to the membership–in fact that was the main point. I’d say something analogous would be a reasonable standard for corporation.

  6. Loveland’s angry screed comes right out of the DFL playbook. Most amusing.

    Odd, he didn’t object all these years that Big Labor could extort political cash from its middle class dues-paying members to pay for unlimited donations to Democrats.

    What Loveland really objects to his a leveling of the playing field.

    Oh, and by the way, the Arizona’s “controversial” immigration bill – the one that mirrors federal law – is favored by >70% of Americans. Nice try.

    • Newt, my point is not that union donations are okay and corporate donations are not. The Supreme Court decided that question, and election law isn’t my expertise.

      PR and branding is my expertise, and my point is that branded corporations in retail are much, much more vulnerable to retributions and reputational damage than unions, for the reasons stated above. If you get angry at the ALF-CIO for their politicking, it’s harder to vote with your feet than if you get angry with Target. Target is politicking like it is a union, but it’s reputational exposure is much bigger than a union experiences. Incidentailly, that would be true if Target was backing a DFL gubernatorial candidate too, probably more so, given the power of conservative talk radio.

      By the way, I don’t feel much emotion about Target’s decision. I have a little Spock in me. But simple logic dictates that an Emmer opponent wouldn’t want their hard earned dollars to go through the retailer to support Emmer. So, I’m just getting my stuff elsewhere.

  7. Joe – No one at Target will feel so much as a blip of impact.

    (I was at a Target on Saturday and the place was packed. I was at Holiday Station later that day and it was humming with business. I was at a BP station last week that was packed to the gills. )

    These brands are always being threatened by a few reporters and some fringe activists. None of it ever sticks.

    The brand implications of corporate political support are grossly over-stated and immeasurable.

    • It’s a fair point, but…

      If you’re an image-obsessed company like Target, you care about the perception of lost business at least as much as actual lost business. Brand or reputation managers will tell you that the coverage of a boycott is often more damaging than the impact of a boycott.

      At the same time, if just a fraction of one percent of the 30% of Minnesota’s strong liberals bypass Target, Target will have lost more than the $150,000 that Emmer gained. That seems possible.

      The image hit is bigger than the financial hit though.

  8. Let the corporations take the PR hit, but poltical activists tend to be in the minority. I suspect Target isn’t too concerned. Most people shop at a particular store for a myriad of reasons, prices, location, cleanliness, service etc. Political contributions probably don’t make the top 5 for 90 percent. I’m not a fan of Emmer, but I wouldn’t avoid Target because of its support or contribution, nor would I be upset if it supported Dayton. I follow politics. I don’t care.

    Liberals and conservatives alike accept big money from corporations and unions. I just don’t think many people care.

  9. From Huffington Post: “Should Gays and Lesbians Boycott Target?”

    From CBS.com: “Target Boycott Movement Grows Following Donation to Support “Antigay” Candidate”

    From YouTube (179,000 views so far):

    • Here is another take:

      http://hotair.com/archives/2010/07/31/the-astroturf-campaign-against-target-fake-but-accurate/

      PR stunts to make a political statement won’t wash with a majority of people.

      So Emmer doesn’t support gay marriage. Does Obama? Do a majority of people?

      Just a question cause I don’t know. Did Target contribute any money directly or indirectly to any other candidates? If so, who?

      • From what I read, Target has given to a business group that so far is only supporting Emmer.

        Emmer looks to be far and away the candidate in the race that is most hostile to civil unions or equal rights for gays (Obama and most pols get gun shy about the word “marriage,” but he supports equal rights)

        As my post indicates, my reasons for opposing Emmer go way beyond gay rights, and I suspect that’s true of most of the 70% of Minnesotans who aren’t supporting Emmer for Governor.

    • So we have some fringe activists associated with an obscure group (“uptake.org”) in possession of a digital cam filming a staged event at a Target store.

      This is evidence of what?

      Answer: Fringe activists associated with an obscure group (“updake.org”) in possession of a digital cam filming a staged event at a Target store.

      That’s all.

      • Trust me, PR people are not going to speak up against Target and Best Buy here. They either are working for Target or Best Buy, or yearn to be. But I’m not the only one in the reputation management business scratching their heads over Target’s decision to go into right wing politics. Target has nursed an enviable reputation of being a moderate corporate citizen that nearly everyone loves, and then they embrace a candidate way out on the fringe?

  10. Interesting discussion Mr. L– so get inside the head of Target’s highly-compensated reputation managers who evidently lost no sleep over potential PR backlash for supporting this guy and tell us how they justified the public endorsement. I lean toward those above: the politcal philosophy of the massive retailer unlikely to discourage any of their faithful patrons (maybe if they were neo-nazis).

    • I hesitate to speculate, but public affairs experts and public relations experts are not always in the same room, or the same stratosphere of the org chart, when such decisions are made. Maybe they made the decision informed by a full and complete pro and con debate about reputation implications, but I wonder.

  11. Joe:

    I have problems with Emmer, don’t get me wrong. However, I hardly call being opposed to gay marriage extremist. Ditto that for opposing views on global warming/climate change whatever it is these days. The Arizona law was also a bad example, seeing how a majority of Americans agree with it.

    You are assuming that the views you hold are mainstream views. I wouldn’t be that bold. I just don’t think most people are going to care that much. Yeah, most won’t vote for Emmer, but they won’t shy away from going to Target, either.

    • Understand, this is not a vote of a legislature, where the only thing that matters is whether you get majority support. If a small slice of the audience feels very strongly about an issue (or a candidate) that can create a big reputational issue. Ask the AZ tourism trade associations about that.

      Why do you suppose businesses historically have not tended to hang signs in their store windows expressing their political views, even if the businesses’ views have majority support? They haven’t wanted to risk alienating the rest of their customer base, whose business and respect they want to preserve.

  12. As of about two hours ago, moveon.org is involved:

    Will you send a message to Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel telling him that you’re not going to shop at Target unless they stop trying to buy elections? Click here to add your name to the petition:

    http://pol.moveon.org/state/target/?id=22226-3566785-Xd5Ab3x&t=2

  13. Moveon.org — now there is an organization that many Americans are going to latch on to. I say again — one fringe group will cancel out the other and Target will be no worse for wear.

    As to your point about hanging signs, many corporations might as well. Leaders of companies like Wal-Mart and GE in the past had no qualms about supporting candidates — they didn’t give a rat’s ass.

    Your theory just doesn’t hold true. Look at Hollywood, one of the most liberal industries in American business. They don’t care — people are going to go to movies anyway, no matter what a fruitcake Oliver Stone is or how over the top he is. People will still go.

  14. Despite the media doing its best to portray AZ as suffering for its immigration stance, it seems people are still coming. My company and hundreds of its affiliates are going back in March, and I know a number of businesses that are.

    In addition, I haven’t met a soul who plans to boycott, and yes, I do have liberal and conservative friends and relatives. My folks live there; are liberal as the Pope is Catholic, and they love the law.

    http://www.easydestination.net/blog/index.php?itemid=880

  15. It doesn’t make shit up, but it can and does shape the news by leaving important facts out, and it often takes a point of view, and anyone who thinks Fox News is the only one that does this has access to some really good mushrooms.

    BTW, I’m shocked at the cities and organizations that have boycotted Arizona, about as surprised as the groups that are boycotting Target. Once again, I think the effect with be minimal.

    Arizona will not only continue to be tourist destination but a place of residence for a huge chunk of the retiring Baby Boom generation.

    • Well, since you all brought it up (having basically zero to do with L’s original premise). You got to love that Arizona immigration law. I mean to hell with human rights. Look ethnically suspicious? Arrest the bastards. Like the portrayal of neo-fascism in a bad cold-war novel–except, I think this is still America. Where are the founding fathers when needed? Now, if Target was indirectly supporting this legislation, I for one am off to Bloomies, prices be damned.

  16. What a joke – so a bunch of flat broke municipalities that shouldn’t be allowing out-of-state travel anywhere won’t be going to tropical Phoenix.

    A single sales meeting of P&G, General Mills, J&J or Citibank dwarfs the entire list of local government and union misfit groups. And guess what – they’ll go wherever they please irrespective of AZ’s law.

  17. OK, time for true confessions:

    I went to a small Emmer fundraiser just about a week ago. Here are some observations:

    1. he is a personable individual. i liked him.
    2. he is a good speaker.
    3. while i do not agree with him, and won’t be voting for him, he would not be anywhere near as much of a disaster for the state as his opponents make out.
    4. i think that he is fairly naive in his prescriptions about the budget–”i am not going to cut programs, i am going to cut government” seems to be his basic argument.
    5. His basic example is Indiana–what he wants Minnesota to look like under an Emmer administration. Of course, we don’t have a bunch of toll roads we can sell for billions to cut our state budget, but why quibble?

    Bottom line–by no means is this race wrapped up, with any democrat coming out of the primary as the anointed winner. starting September 1st, we will have a whole new, competitive election campaign starting up.

    • I agree that Emmer, a trial lawyer, is an excellent speaker, with notable exceptions. But the policy stuff is unlike anything I’ve ever see from a major party gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota. Nullification? Yikes.

  18. PM:

    You are a very interesting individual, scoping out all sides of the political front and making honest assessments. It’s difficult to do these days of hyper partisan politics. It’s also one of the reasons I’m always eager to hear your opinion.

  19. Tidbits from recent coverage:

    The Strib employs false equivalence logic by pointing out that Target makes four figure donations to congressional Democrats to balance it’s six figure donation to the most conservative MN major party gubernatorial candidate in years.

    Moveon.org updates: It has gathered over 200,000 signatures to deliver next week. Support moveon.org or not, this gives the story legs.

    The Pioneer Press wonders aloud whether this issue accounts for Target’s stock price dropping, in contrast to Walmart and Costco. Most seem to doubt that is what is driving the price drop, and I doubt it too.

    U of M Humphrey Institute analyst says: “Lately, Target is better known for political contributions than community giving.” That speaks to the reputational damage caused by these stories, as opposed to the financial impact.

    And MSNBC interviews a TPM analyst for a national audience:

  20. Had to go pick up a kid’s birthday present last night. Usually, I just run up to Target, and $100 later I come out with a birthday present and a bunch of other stuff that I thought we “need” to stock up on.
    Instead, I went to a local kids store, purchased a great present, got it wrapped, and spent a total of $30.
    Boycotting Target is going to save me a lot of money — no more impulse buying! Plus I support a local store. Can’t beat that.

    • That’s great, but when you are in desperate need of a new Michael Graves -designed kumquat peeler, you know you’ll cave.

  21. Jay Wiener has a very thoughtful treatment of this PR case study in Minnpost today. Excerpt:

    The warnings were everywhere. They were loud and clear. But tin ears don’t hear, and blinders can block out the clouds of political fallout. That happens to businessmen sometimes. It seems to have happened to Target Corp.’s chairman, president and CEO, Gregg Steinhafel.

    The thoughtful crystal-ball gazers anticipated scrutiny and reaction, although nothing like this, nothing like protest rallies, Facebook campaigns and Moveon.org petitions.

    Somehow, Steinhafel wasn’t listening, wasn’t looking or got carried away with his own political views, a shortcoming known to afflict many corporate chiefs, according to one academic study.

    Yes, Steinhafel followed the letter of the law. He was totally within bounds of new corporate political giving rules in the country and in Minnesota when he contributed $150,000 of his company’s funds to a group committed to issues important to the state’s biggest companies.

    But Steinhafel broke an unwritten rule.

    “Getting into politics means picking fights,” said professor Ian Maitland, a corporate governance expert at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. “And picking fights is generally what companies don’t want to do.”

    • Hmm….You called it from the outset Mr. L.. Pretty curious development and getting hotter isn’t it? A genuine, mounting citizen protest. Cool story!

  22. This is the same guy who played the NIMBY card with respect to the eating disorder building in Wayzata. I thought he was an idiot for doing that. this confirms my opinion that he is tone deaf.

  23. Target’s stock price is up 2.6 percent today over ok earnings reports. It is only about $6 off its 52 week high of 58 or something around there.

    Studies have show that boycotts affect a stock price for, oh about 15 days, and that’s when they are sizable boycotts. This one may or may not fall into that category.

    I’m socially pretty liberal but otherwise fairly conservative, probably in line with a lot of Americans. I’ve been to Target 3 times in the past week. I’m no more going to stop shopping there than I am likely to avoid GE products because its chairman is an Obama supporter.

    • Of course brand equity isn’t best measured in week-to-week sales or stock prices. It’s best measured in long-term customer trust and loyalty, which leads to long-term sales maintenance and expansion. Long-term brand and reputation damage is what Target needs to be concerned about here. So, fixating on day to day sales figures and stock prices would be short-sighted.

      (For the record, though, apparently Target underperformed expectations a tad. And to be fair, these reports refer to 4 weeks of sales, and much of that four week period was not the controversial time. But again, irrelevant metric, I think.)

      You don’t have to lose something like 50% of customer trust and loyalty to have a brand and reputation crisis, so getting smug about seeing people in stores misses the point. A decrease of something like 5% of the number of customers who feel trust and loyalty to a brand can make a big long-term sales difference. That’s why Target rightfully is concerned a relatively small group of its customers publicly lashing out against them this week.

      The Target CEO’s apology puts them on the road to rebuilding the trust and loyalty of people who don’t want their beloved Target to get politicized. It shows that Target gives a damn about the relatively small group of customers who they were losing. But now that the kleig lights are shining brightly on them, future actions will be important. The activists will be watching closely now.

      I wonder what Best Buy will do.

  24. [...] haven’t spent a cent in a Target since it’s CEO decided to play politics with the boatload of money I was spending there. But even as I write this, if I close my eyes I can [...]

  25. [...] summer, it took a lot of heat when it decided to take its customers’ purchasing dollars and play politics with [...]

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