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Target alters process for political expenditures after MN Forward controversy

In the wake of a controversial donation to MN Forward that riled LGBT activists and sparked boycotts cross-country, Target has changed its process for making corporate independent expenditures. The retail giant will now run its political donations through a policy committee that would determine if the donations “advance issues that are important to our business.” But will the change be enough for LGBT community members still hurt by Target’s 2010 donations?

In July, Target gave $150,000 to MN Forward, an independent expenditure campaign that produced and distributed ads in support of Republican Tom Emmer, a gubernatorial candidate who opposed marriage for same-sex couples. His campaign had also donated to the anti-gay ministry You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International and he had attended a 2009 fundraiser for the group.

Target, which had been a big supporter of LGBT causes in Minnesota, suddenly found itself facing protests by the LGBT community in Minnesota and became the target of a nationwide boycotts.

On Thursday, Target announced a new set of policies around corporate political contributions.

Now, before general corporate funds can be used for political donations, they’ll have to go through a policy committee comprised of senior Target executives that’s “responsible for balancing our business interests with any other considerations that may be important to our team members, guests or other stakeholders,” according to the new policies posted on the Target website.

The policy committee will be in charge of those decisions regardless of whether the contribution is to an independent group such as MN Forward or to a political action committee:

The use of general corporate funds for political contributions is permitted if the Policy Committee determines that would be an appropriate means of advancing issues that are important to our business. The Policy Committee reviews and approves any use of general corporate funds for electioneering activities or for ballot initiatives. This approval process applies whether the contribution is made directly to a candidate or party, or indirectly through an organization operating under Section 527 or 501(c)(4) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code.

“These changes are really reflective of that perspective that we gained over the 2010 election cycle,” Jessica Carlson, spokesperson for Target, told the Washington Blade yesterday.

The Blade asked her if the controversy surrounding MN Forward contributed to the policy change. Carlson said, “Well, this has been an evolution, and so based on just generally the 2010 election cycle, we made some changes.”

But the change doesn’t necessarily mend any fences with local LGBT advocates.

“It sure took Target a long to time react to the boycott,” said Randi Reitan, the mother of a gay son who took her Target card to a local store and tore it up in front of management. Her protests, captured on YouTube and at The Uptake, made her the face of the boycott.

“But language like this, establishing a policy committee made up of senior executives, really doesn’t say much to me,” she said.

“I wish they would have addressed the fact that they — as a corporation — gave to a group who wanted to elect a person who would do all he could to take rights away from their gay employees,” she added. “As a company, Target has great benefits and internal support for their gay employees and that is wonderful, but if Target gives large sums of money to elect a person who wants to take rights away from the gay community in the ‘real world,’ they loose my respect and my business.”

For Reitan, the bigger issue is Gregg Steinhafel, Target’s President, CEO and Chairman of the Board. Steinhafel, a devout conservative Christian, has a reputation for supporting conservative candidates.

“I do not respect Gregg Steinhafel,” Reitan said. “I feel — and a number of Target employees expressed to me in the months since Target donated the $150,000 — Steinhafel is personally not supportive of marriage equality, and he gave to Emmer in part because of that viewpoint.”

She added, “I have no plans to return to Target until he is replaced.”

The controversy, she said has made her reconsider shopping at large corporations because of political giving in the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court case.

“I am against any corporation giving to political campaigns,” she said. “Companies like Target are wealthy enough to have the ability to actually sway an election with their donations.”

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