Aug. 6, 2010 — -- The CEO of Target Corp. has apologized for a $150,000 donation the company made to a Minnesota-based political group backing a gubernatorial candidate with penchant for opposing gay rights, after a firestorm of protest from customers.
Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel wrote employees to say the discount retailer was "genuinely sorry" over the way the contribution to MN Forward donation played out. Steinhafel said Target would set up a review process for future political donations.
"While I firmly believe that a business climate conducive to growth is critical to our future, I realize our decision affected many of you in a way I did not anticipate, and for that I am genuinely sorry," Steinhafel wrote.
He added, "The diversity of our team is an important aspect of our unique culture and our success as a company, and we did not mean to disappoint you, our team or our valued guests."
Gay rights activists and loyal Target shoppers were furious with the company after it contributed $150,000 to MN Forward , a political group that has endorsed and is paying for ads for the Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer.
Emmer, who will face the winner of the Democratic gubernatorial primary and an independent candidate in the general election this November, is against gay marriage.
On Emmer's website he defines marriage as a "union between one man and one woman" and he has come under fire for his $250 contribution to a Christian rockband that has been known to speak harshly of gays.
Emmer told the Minnesota Star Tribune that the controversial rock band "You Can Run But You Cannot Hide," were "nice people," following band member Bradlee Dean's reported comments that Muslim countries that support execution of gays are "more moral than even the American Christians."
"These are nice people. Are we going to agree on everything? No," Emmer said of the band. "I really appreciate their passion and — you know what — I respect their point of view."
Large corporations have only recently been legally allowed to contribute to campaign advertising, after the Supreme Court in January reversed a century of campaign finance reform that had limited the money that could be spent by private companies and unions.
According to MN Forward Executive Director Brian McClung, Emmer was chosen by the group because of his position on job growth and the state's economy. It is the same reason that the group has been garnering contributions from corporations like Target and electronics giant Best Buy , which gave $100,000.
Steinhafel has earlier defended the company's decision to contribute to MN Forward.
"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," wrote Steinhafel. "It is also important to note that we rarely endorse all advocated positions of organizations or candidates we support, and we do not have a political or social agenda."
A representative from Best Buy also released a statement saying that it supports MN Forward because the group makes "jobs and economic issues a top priority this election." Like Target, Best Buy does not claim to agree with all issues a particular candidate promotes.
Gay Activities Angry over Target's Political Contributions
But members of the gay community around the country say that Target in particular is "trying to have it both ways" by supporting a candidate like Emmer and still publicizing their efforts to help the gay rights movement.
"Target has always been a really supportive workplace for GLTB people," said Monica Meyer, the interim head of the gay rights group OutFront Minnesota. "I think people are feeling a little bit betrayed by the company. [The contribution] seems really contradictory to how they've acted in the past."
"I do think that people are rethinking their shopping, particularly during election season," said Meyer. "And I have heard some people saying it's a good thing Costco exists."
Ron Malott, a designer in Austin, Texas, who shops regularly with his partner at Target for supplies for his two young children, says that he will find somewhere else to spend his money.
"I won't shop there," said Malott. "There are two in about a five-mile radius from me but I'll find somewhere else to go, I won't spend my money at Target."
On Facebook, a group supporting a boycott of Target named "Boycott Target Until They Cease Funding Anti-Gay Politics" and one with a similar title dedicated to Best Buy, is already attracting membership. Target's group alone already has more than 5,000 members.
Loyal Shoppers Vow Never to Shop at Target Again
The group's message board has been flooded with Target shoppers vowing to never step foot inside the store again, with one member writing that she feels "more than a little sick and pretty angry when I think of all the [money] I've spent at Target over the years."
Phone numbers for Steinhafel as well as his assistant are also posted on the group's site.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.