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Target defends $150,000 political gift

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ST. PAUL, Minn. » Target Corp. defended yesterday the use of its new freedom to spend money on political campaigns as employees and gay organizations criticized a $150,000 donation that will help a Minnesota GOP gubernatorial candidate who opposes gay marriage.

Chief Executive Officer Gregg Steinhafel assured employees at the company’s Minneapolis headquarters in an e-mail that the discount retailer’s support of the gay community is "unwavering." He said employees, some gay, raised concerns that the money is helping state Rep. Tom Emmer, a fiery conservative who is his party’s likely nominee for governor.

Target’s headache illustrates the potential risks for businesses that seek to take advantage of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that threw out parts of a 63-year-old law that prohibited campaign donations from company funds. The ruling changed regulations in about half the states, but the Target donation in Minnesota is among the first major new corporate moves to come to light.

Target’s money went 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. Steinhafel’s e-mail said Target’s political donations are intended to support business objectives such as job creation and economic growth.

He said the company does not have a social agenda or necessarily agree with all the positions of candidates it supports. "Let me be very clear," he said, "Target’s support of the GLBT community is unwavering, and inclusiveness remains a core value of our company."

Monica Meyer, interim head of the gay rights group OutFront Minnesota, said the gay community has long viewed Target as a supportive employer, and many are surprised by the large donation to the pro-Emmer group.

"A lot of people feel betrayed by this place where everybody goes to shop, and you get to see them at Pride and you feel good that you’re supporting a corporation that’s giving back to the community," she said.

As of yesterday Target was the largest single donor to MN Forward, which had raised more than $1 million from industry trade groups and companies including Best Buy Co., Pentair Inc., Hubbard Broadcasting Inc., Davisco Foods International Inc. and Polaris Industries Inc.

Best Buy spokeswoman Susan Busch said the firm informed employees of its $100,000 donation yesterday and received only a handful of phone calls about it.

OutFront Minnesota posted an open letter urging Target to take back its money from MN Forward. Two new "Boycott Target" Facebook groups together had more than 1,000 followers by midafternoon yesterday, with some people posting business phone numbers for Target and Steinhafel, who individually also gave Emmer $2,000, the maximum donation under state law.


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