Target changes giving policy that led to boycott

Target has changed its corporate donation policy more than six months after LGBT groups criticized the company for donating $150,000 to Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who said he thought someone who said it was OK to kill gay people was a nice guy.

The new policy involves a committee of senior executives overseeing donations to parties and candidates.

Since the donation was made, Human Rights Campaign tried to negotiate a comparable donation to LGBT groups, but the company broke off talks. Many members of the LGBT community stopped shopping at Target and HRC deducted 15 points from Target’s Corporate Equality Index score.

The LGBT Creating Change conference was held just blocks from Target’s Minneapolis headquarters this month. Creating Change organizers approached Target about sponsoring the conference, but the company declined. However, employees from Target corporate headquarters volunteered at the conference.

Best Buy, which is also based in Minneapolis and also made a large donation to the PAC supporting Emmer, the anti-gay Republican running for Minnesota governor, was a sponsor of Creating Change.

Target says its has supported Twin Cities Pride in the past and plans to continue doing so. The company also says it will contribute to gay Pride celebrations in San Francisco and Chicago.

Ironically, the political donation may have backfired for the candidate as well.  The money Target gave to Emmer may have energized enough people in the LGBT community to vote for Mark Dayton, the Democrat who won the election by a slim margin.

—  David Taffet

Emmer concedes; Target doesn’t

Target Retail StoreRepublican Tom Emmer finally conceded defeat to Democrat Mark Dayton in the Minnesota governor’s race. Although behind by 9,000 votes, the homophobic Emmer still thought he should have won.

The race gained national attention when Target and Best Buy made substantial donations to a PAC that supported Emmer. Although they claimed they supported Emmer for his position on lower taxes, LGBT groups jumped on the candidate’s extreme anti-gay views. He called one person who called for death to gays “a nice guy,” for example.

Target has refused to budge on its position, however. The Human Rights Campaign spoke to representatives of the company over the summer to encourage them to make equal donations to LGBT groups. Negotiations broke down and the company has not responded or supported LGBT groups in any significant way since then.

HRC’s rating of Target in the Corporate Equality Index was lowered from 100 percent to 85 percent in the latest listing.

—  David Taffet

The Nooner: Oprah, Minnesota governor’s race, H&M, Clover coffee, Cedar Hill slaying

Welcome to the inaugural edition of Instant Tea’s new midday news briefing, The Nooner™. Here goes nothing:

• Oprah denies she’s a lesbian in interview with Barbara Walters to air Thursday. (Video clip above.)

• Anti-gay, Target-backed Republican Tom Emmer concedes Minnesota governor’s race. Does this mean it’s OK to shop there again?

• Clover coffee arrives at Starbucks on Knox Street.

• H&M to open pop-up store at NorthPark today?

• Arrest of partner in Cedar Hill teacher’s murder a relief for family.

—  John Wright

Fox News talks to Robert Rowling about Gold’s Gym controversy, quotes his neighbor Instant Tea

This is too funny. Highland Park billionaire Robert Rowling, CEO of TRT Holdings, the ownership group for both Gold’s Gym and Omni Hotels, has broken his silence about the controversy over his $2 million in contributions to American Crossroads. And guess who Rowling decided to talk to about it? That’s right, Fox News. But that’s not the funny part. In its story about the Gold’s Gym flap, which is oh-so-cleverly titled “This isn’t working out,” Fox News also quotes this blog, which it says “shares a neighborhood with Rowling.” Really? And which neighborhood would that be? Do they really think Instant Tea can afford to live in Highland Park? Well maybe we could if people like Fox News would link to our freakin’ site when they quote us!!! Bastards. Anyhow, here’s what Bobby-boy had to say for himself and what Fox News had to say about us:

“The facts are so distorted,” Rowling told Fox News, explaining that his donation to American Crossroads had nothing to do with social policies that could spark crossfire. “I’ve never heard one discussion of a social issue. This is all about fiscal sanity.” American Crossroads “supports conservative candidates, and even though those candidates may disagree with them on social issues, the resounding issue is fiscal responsibility.”

Rowling explained that his donation was made knowing that unlike its sister organization, Crossroads GPS, American Crossroads discloses its donors. “I gave to American Crossroads, where I knew my name would be published,” he said.

LGBT online newspaper the Dallas Voice, which shares a neighborhood with Rowling, on Monday likened the criticism from the gay community to similar backlash against Target Corp. over its financial support of an organization that backed Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who has made clear his stance that marriage between a man and a woman is the only form that should be legally recognized.

“…Apparently the only thing we hold more sacred than shopping at Target is working out,” the newspaper deadpanned in a Monday posting.

Target Corp., which is known for its progressive employment policies and sponsorship of Minnesota gay groups, in August faced pressure from its shareholders to retool its donation process to avoid similar problems in the future.

“Gold’s Gym is apolitical. We welcome all members without regard to race, gender, or sexual orientation,” Rowling told Fox News. “We always have, and we always will.”

—  John Wright

HRC still calling on Target to ‘Make it right’

Target Retail StoreA reader wrote to me last week and said that he and his boyfriend are continuing to boycott Target, and he requested an update.

I contacted Paul Guequierre, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, who said the organization is still calling on Target to “Make it right.”

At issue was Target’s $150,000 donation to MN Forward, a political action committee supporting the candidacy of anti-gay Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer.

Guequierre said HRC has staff in Minnesota working for the Mark Dayton campaign. Dayton is the Democrat opposing Emmer, a Republican.

“Minnesota could be the next state to have marriage equality,” Guequierre said.

But he said that will only happen with Dayton as governor. Currently, Dayton is ahead in the polls.

Target’s parent company was originally called Dayton-Hudson and candidate Dayton, whom Target opposes, comes from the store’s founding family.

Guequierre said if Dayton wins, “Target will have to ask themselves if it was worth it. Their reputation within the community has changed.”

Personally, since being asked to leave a local Target for asking questions while trying to cover this story, I’ve stayed away and am unlikely to go back. I don’t shop where the LGBT community is not welcome, but I really avoid stores where I’ve been thrown out. (The offensive question: Has the LGBT boycott of Target affected your store at all?)

Target once received a perfect score of 100 percent in HRC’s Corporate Equality Index. This year, the company had 15 points deducted because of the political contribution and its refusal to make it right.

Best Buy also made a large donation to MN Forward and has not made it right either.

But Guequierre said HRC has never called for a boycott.

“Both companies treat their LGBT employees right,” he said.

So there is no HRC-sanctioned boycott, but many members of the LGBT community have decided to find other places to shop.

—  David Taffet

Minn. judge upholds law that revealed Target donation

MARTIGA LOHN | Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A federal judge refused on Monday, Sept. 20 to interfere with a new Minnesota law that revealed political donations from Target Corp. and other companies, saying the public has an interest in knowing who speaks and who pays for those messages as the election approaches.

U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank denied a temporary injunction in a lawsuit brought by supporters of Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, including an anti-abortion group and an anti-tax organization. They sued to overturn the law on free speech grounds and had asked Frank to suspend the disclosure requirements immediately.

Frank answered with a firm no.

“Invalidating the election laws at issue here would likely result in corporations making independent expenditures without any reporting or disclosure on the eve of the upcoming general election on November 2, 2010,” his ruling said. “This result so close to the election would clearly harm the state, Minnesota voters, and the general public interest.”

That came the day before independent political funds, including those collecting corporate dollars, are required to file their latest campaign finance reports with state regulators. They must list donors who gave more than $100 and show how they’re spending their money.

The law was enacted in May after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling early this year freed businesses to spend company money on elections, overturning restrictions on corporate political spending in about half the states, including Minnesota. State lawmakers responded by enacting disclosure requirements so that corporate campaign spending would be public.

The lawsuit from Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, the Taxpayers League of Minnesota and a travel agency contended that the reporting requirements were so burdensome that they amounted to a ban on free speech.

During election years, businesses and independent groups must submit five reports and disclose large donations within 24 hours for the three weeks leading up to the primary and the last two weeks before the general election. In off years, one report is required. The registration requirement is triggered when businesses or independent funds spend more than $100. Penalties for violations can be as high as $25,000.

Frank said the state law does not restrict corporations from spending freely on political speech as long as they follow the disclosure requirements.

“The law at issue here is not a ban, but rather a disclosure law,” his ruling said.

Joe La Rue, the Terre Haute, Ind.-based attorney for the groups that sued, had no immediate comment.

Attorney General Lori Swanson said the decision will help voters.

“This ruling lets average voters know who is financing elections in Minnesota,” she said in a statement.

The lawsuit also challenged the state’s prohibition on corporations contributing directly to candidates and political parties. But Frank said that ban wasn’t invalidated by the Supreme Court ruling, which revolved around with corporate independent expenditures made with the input or knowledge of candidates or political parties.

Target’s donation attracted national attention because it seemed to conflict with the company’s gay-friendly reputation. The Minneapolis-based retailer donated $150,000 to MN Forward, a business-oriented political fund supporting Emmer, an outspoken opponent of gay marriage, in the governor’s race.

—  John Wright

HRC counters Target money in Minn.

MARTIGA LOHN  |  Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A Democratic-backed political fund, a Minnesota gay rights organization and Democratic candidates will split a $150,000 donation as part of a push to elect gay marriage supporters in the state, after Target Corp. donated the same amount to a Republican-friendly group.

Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese told The Associated Press in an interview Friday, Sept. 10 that the donation is partly a response to Target’s donation to a group helping Republican Tom Emmer in the governor’s race. Emmer opposes gay marriage, and the Target contribution set off a national backlash among liberals and the retailer’s gay employees and customers.

The Washington-based gay rights organization may spend more in Minnesota, which Solmonese said he views as one of the next states that could legalize gay marriage. Solmonese was set to deliver the keynote speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Twin Cities dinner in Minneapolis on Saturday.

“We’ve understood long before the Target situation that Minnesota was poised, as is New York, to be the next state to win marriage equality,” Solmonese said.

He added: “The scope of our work here is certainly going to move beyond the $150,000.”

The Human Rights Campaign will give $100,000 to WIN Minnesota, a political fund backing Democrat Mark Dayton; $20,000 to the gay rights group OutFront Minnesota to mobilize voters; and $30,000 to state candidates, including Dayton. The group announced its plans to give the money last month after Target declined to match its initial donation with another donation to help candidates who support gay rights.

Solmonese said the Minnesota donation excludes funds given separately to Democratic congressional candidates from the state, including Rep. Tim Walz and Tarryl Clark, who is challenging GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann.

—  John Wright

How is Target’s donation being used

MN Forward is the group to which Target and Best Buy directed a combined total of $250,000. The organization is a political action committee supporting a candidate with pro-business positions.

Here’s the ad they released this week to support pro-business and anti-gay Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer.

In the ad, they refer to Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate Mark Dayton, claiming he supports taxing e-mail. Dayton is a former Democratic Minnesota senator. While in Congress, he addressed a proposal at the time to levy a tax on e-mail and said he would not support it. His mention of the issue on the floor of the Senate is what MN Forward calls support.

Emmer’s anti-LGBT positions are not addressed in the ad, but that was never MN Forward’s purpose. Their mission, as stated on their website is:

MN Forward is focused on issues related to creating jobs and economic opportunity. That includes tax reform, spending reform, and ensuring our children receive a world-class education.

After being criticized for only supporting Republicans, the PAC steered some money to some Democrats. An example is Rep. Gene Pelowski. On their website they wrote:

Rep. Pelowski broke ranks with his party and voted against a $1 billion tax increase in 2009 and against a veto override attempt on the same bill. That year he had the highest ranking on the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce scorecard of any DFL House member.

So in being non-partisan, they chose Democrats who “broke ranks” with Democrats.

—  David Taffet

To shop or not to shop at Target?

That is the question for LGBTs angry over donations by Target, Best Buy to anti-gay politician

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Target Retail Store
DECISIONS, DECISIONS | The Target on Central at Haskell is convenient for shoppers in Oak Lawn. But does the company’s donation to an anti-gay politician outweigh the store’s convenience? (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Although Target and Best Buy have a 100 percent rating in the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, they were removed last week from HRC’s Buying for Equality guide.

Fred Sainz, HRC vice president of communications and marketing, called the move “unprecedented.”
At issue are donations the companies made to MN Forward, a political action committee supporting anti-gay Minnesota Republican candidate for governor Tom Emmer.

Target donated $150,000 and Best Buy contributed $100,000 to the PAC.

Emmer supports a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. He is affiliated with the Christian rock band You Can Run But You Cannot Hide, which has advocated violence against LGBT people.

Gays “play the victim when they are, in fact, the predator. On average, they molest 117 people before they’re found out,” the band’s front man, Bradlee Dean, has said.

“These are nice people,” Emmer said of Dean, who has also said that Muslims are upholding the laws of God by calling for the execution of gays.

Sainz said the corporate index measures a company’s workplace practices as they relate to their employees. Most of the score is based on certain fixed criteria such as offering domestic partner insurance and having nondiscrimination policies in place that cover sexual orientation and gender identity.

Sainz said that up to 15 points can be added for outreach and marketing to the LGBT community. The same number of points may be deducted for contributing to organizations that fight equality or to discriminatory ballot measures.

“Target and Best Buy got 100 percent and deserved the score at the time,” he said. “It’s just a snapshot in time.”

Buying for Equality is made up of companies listed in the CEI that consumers would use. While Lockheed Martin received a 100 percent rating, few people reading the buyers’ guide shop for aircraft engines, Sainz said.

The guide “sends the message to support these companies,” Sainz said.

Target bookends Oak Lawn with one store at Central Expressway and Haskell Avenue and another on Marsh Lane at Northwest Highway, just past Love Field.

Best Buy has an active LGBT employees group in the Dallas area. A local representative of the group said any statement on the issue should come from corporate headquarters, but the corporate spokesperson did not return calls.

Target has a gay employee group but none active locally. North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tony Vedda said that those groups are more common at retail companies’ corporate headquarters and distribution centers than in the stores themselves.

Sainz said that consumer anger has been directed more at Target than Best Buy.

“We go to Target once a week,” he said. “We feel personally betrayed.”

He said that Best Buy is where he goes for electronics but shops there much less frequently.

No formal boycott of either store has been organized, but many in the LGBT community as well as allies and others concerned with social justice issues have stayed out of both Target and Best Buy since the donations were made public.

Employees at Target at Cityplace refused to say whether or not their business has been affected and told this reporter to leave the store.

Neither company reports a financial impact, but three investment funds controlling $57.5 million in stock have filed shareholder complaints.

The New York Times ran an editorial highlighting the company’s public relations nightmare.

Target’s CEO apologized for supporting an anti-LGBT candidate and said the company’s support for the community is unwavering. The company is a sponsor of the upcoming Out & Equal convention in Los Angeles and supports a number of Pride events.

David Ethridge is a local activist who believes in standing on principle when deciding where to shop: “LGBT Americans represent almost$800 billion in annual buying power and are a serious consumer force to be recognized and valued,” he said. “We have to vote with our dollars, because that’s the only language that a corporation speaks.”

Liz Cappon said she disagrees with the donations both companies made but is not boycotting.

“I can guarantee that there are tons of other stores that have done or are currently doing the same thing with candidates and PACs but maybe they just aren’t receiving the same attention right now,” she said.

She said some friends of hers have switched to Wal-Mart. That company’s CEI score is 40 percent.
“I would prefer to shop somewhere that treats their gay employees well,” she said.

“Target wants to sell me socks, and I want to buy socks from Target, but first I have to feel good about where my sock money is going,” Ethridge said.

Ethridge said it’s too early to know what long-term impact the reaction to Target’s donation will have.

Sainz held talks with Target that produced no immediate results. He said his talks with Best Buy continue.

“I think there’s a silver lining,” he said. “We, as a community, sent a message to corporations to factor in our issues.”

He said that there’s no way to measure the effect the boycott of Target has had, but thinks companies that care about public reaction will be more careful about their political donations in the future.

…………………………………………

COMPARISON SHOPPING

Thinking of boycotting? How easy would it be to boycott Target or Best Buy and stick to companies with high Equality Index ratings? We took a few products available at these stores and compared. Prices are current this week from the stores’ websites.

• LEVI STRAUSS

Levi’s not only has a 100 percent rating itself, the San Francisco-based company practically invented corporate equality. They were one of the first corporations to extend benefits equally to their LGBT employees and one of the first to market to the community.

Target: $24.99-$27.99

J.C. Penney: $32.99-$49.99

Levi Outlet Store: $19.90-$128 (Not the same styles but the outlet store offered the widest selection.)

Closest Penney store to Oak Lawn: Valley View Mall. Penney is locally based and has a 95 percent rating

Closest Levi Outlet Store: Grapevine Mills. Company-owned with 100 percent rating.

Jeans alternatives: Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic. 100 percent rating. Closest stores to Oak Lawn: Banana Republic in West Village. Gap in NorthPark. Old Navy in Galleria. Only carry their own store brands.

• “GLEE” DVD

The first season of “Glee” (available Sept. 14)

“Glee” aired on Fox, owned by News Corp: unrated.

Target: $38.99

Best Buy: $37.99

Borders: $40.59 (Borders is at West Village and has a 100 percent rating)

Alternative: rent it at gay-owned TapeLenders

• CREST TOOTHPASTE, 4.2 oz. size

Crest is manufactured by Procter & Gamble, which has a 100 percent rating.

Target: $2.49

Kroger: $2.50 (Kroger has a 75 percent rating  and has a store on Cedar Springs.)

• FRISKIES, 5.5 oz. can

Manufactured by Purina, which has a 75 percent rating.

Target: 40 cents/can

Walgreens: 50 cents/can (Walgreens has stores in Oak Lawn, Oak Cliff and throughout the city and has a 100 percent rating.)

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 27, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

Shareholders urge Target, Best Buy to increase oversight of campaign contributions

MARTIGA LOHN  |  Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — A few Target Corp. and Best Buy Co. institutional shareholders weighed in Thursday, Aug. 19 on the flap over the companies’ political donations in Minnesota, urging the boards of both retailers to increase their oversight of campaign contributions.

Walden Asset Management and Trillium Asset Management Corp., both of Boston, and Bethesda, Md.-based Calvert Asset Management Co. filed shareholder resolutions with both companies. Together, the three firms control less than 1 percent of each company’s outstanding shares — 1.1 million Target shares worth $57.5 million and 344,000 Best Buy shares worth $11.3 million — but they are moving the debate over the political giving to a new arena.

Target gave $150,000 and Best Buy $100,000 to a business-focused political fund helping a conservative Republican gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota, triggering a national backlash from gay rights groups and liberals. The companies made the donations after a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling freed them to spend corporate funds on elections. The candidate, state legislator Tom Emmer, opposes gay marriage and other rights for same-sex couples.

“A good corporate political contribution policy should prevent the kind of debacle Target and Best Buy walked into,” said Trillium vice president Shelley Alpern. “We expect companies to evaluate candidates based upon the range of their positions — not simply one area — and assess whether they are in alignment with their core values. But these companies’ policies are clearly lacking that.”

The shareholders said the donations don’t mesh with corporate values that include workplace protections for gay employees and risk harming the companies’ brands. Walden senior vice president Tim Smith said such giving can have “a major negative impact on company reputations and business.”

The Target resolution urges the board to review the effect of future political contributions on the company’s public image, sales and profitability and to consider the cost of backing a candidate whose politics conflict with the company’s public stances.

Spokeswoman Amy Reilly said Minneapolis-based Target had nothing to add to previous statements on the matter, including an apology from Chief Executive Officer Gregg Steinhafel.

A spokeswoman for Richfield, Minn.-based Best Buy didn’t immediately respond to a message.

The three investment companies together submitted the resolution to Target, while Calvert and Trillium filed the Best Buy shareholder proposal. One of Trillium’s clients, the Portland, Ore.-based Equity Foundation, divested a small Target holding of 170 shares on Wednesday.

—  John Wright