* Target could be test case of corporate giving backlash
* Republican candidate opposed to gay rights fuels furor
By Andrew Stern
CHICAGO, Aug 3 In a challenge to corporations'
newfound right to make unlimited campaign donations, U.S.-based
retailer Target (TGT.N) found itself in the cross-hairs of a
boycott effort fueled by anger at a Minnesota candidate
strongly opposed to gay rights.
MoveOn.org, the Democratic political advocacy group,
widened a petition drive on Tuesday it had begun last week to
its five million members from Target's home state of Minnesota
to drum up opposition to Target's recent $150,000 donation to a
pro-business group, called MN Forward.
"Most Americans think corporations shouldn't be meddling in
democracy, and Target is the test case for that," MoveOn.org
spokeswoman Ilyse Hogue said, adding there had been a strong
response with 200,000 members signed up so far.
MoveOn.org was among the critics of January's Supreme Court
5-4 ruling that corporations and labor unions can directly
spend on political campaigns. President Barack Obama reacted by
pledging to push for legislation to set limits and head off "a
new stampede of special interest money in our politics."
In Minnesota, MN Forward has financed a TV advertising
campaign backing Republican Tom Emmers for governor of
Minnesota. Emmers has pledged to cut taxes and spending, though
it is his strong opposition to gay rights such as gay marriage
and domestic partner benefits that has drawn fire.
The protests were dramatized by a Minnesota woman, whose
son is gay, who returned $226 worth of merchandise to a Target
store. The video of her vociferously telling the store manager
why has been a much-watched video on YouTube.
The boycott, which analysts say has so far had a limited if
nonexistent impact on Target stores or its stock price, puts
Target in a spotlight usually reserved for larger discount
rival Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N). Walmart has often been the
focus of anger by unions and other groups focused on wage rates
and working conditions.
There was an initial backlash from Minnesota's gay rights
community when Target's $150,000 donation became publicly
known, but the boycott has not materialized, said political
analyst David Schultz of Hamline University in St. Paul.
"They took a lot of heat. The question is, will the heat
turn into anything?" Schultz said.
"If it's just about Tom Emmers, people outside Minnesota
aren't going to care. But if it's about corporate contributions
and about gay rights, then it might get somewhere," he said.
Other corporate executives will be watching to see if
Target feels any pain, he said. If not, they will feel freer to
donate however they wish ahead of U.S. mid-term elections in
U.S. voters in November will elect all 435 members of the
House of Representatives and fill 37 of the 100 seats in the
Senate. Democrats now control both chambers, but Republicans
are expected to pick up seats and possibly gain control of the
"There needs to be a careful thought process behind what
candidates to support and who to make donations to. (A
donation) could ruffle the feathers" of some customers, said
Matt Arnold, an analyst who follows retailers at Wall Street
firm Edward Jones.
In the meantime, "this is merely noise that shouldn't have
any material impact on the business," Arnold said.
Target Chief Executive Gregg Steinhafel responded to the
local outcry in Minnesota with a note to employees explaining
the company was only acting in its business interest to cut
taxes. He wrote that Target did not support all the positions
of candidates it backs, and had an "unwavering" commitment to
MoveOn.org and others opposed to corporate giving to
campaigns want to frame the issue as executives having an
unfettered capability to donate to whomever they wish without
getting the approval of shareholders or customers.
"It just so happens that Target is giving to a candidate
with views far out of step, I think, with most Americans,"
Hogue said. "But our members would react with similar outrage
on the principle that corporations are not people, and that
corporate money is not free speech and democracy works best
when everyone has an equal voice."
(Additional reporting by Brad Dorfman, editing by Philip